Universality Reconsidered: Diversity in Making Meaning of Facial Expressions - Gendron e.a. - 2018 - Article

Is there a difference in how people make meaning of facial expressions?

For a long time, it has been claimed that facial movements are perceived as emotional expressions and that this is similar for people all over the world. In fact, this claim entitled universality thesis is assumed to be one of psychology's most basic facts. This idea is based on a series of studies, conducted between 1969 and 1975, in small-scale societies in the Pacific using confirmation-based research methods. These samples were used as they provided a unique opportunity for a critical test of universality: these participants typically had limited exposure to Western cultural practices and norms (including (social) media), thereby minimizing alternative explanations for any cross-cultural consistencies that might be observed. These studies indeed provided the strongest evidence supporting the universality thesis.

New studies (conducted since 2008), however, have studied this issue using a wider sample of small-scale societies, including Africa and South America. In addition, these newer studies made use of more discovery-based methods rather than confimation-based methods. Results of these new studies point toward diversity rather than university in the way perceivers make sense of facial movements. Thus, these new studies support a perceiver-constructed account of emotion perception, rather than a uniform account of emotion perception. This finding is in accordance with the broader literature on perception.

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