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Out of Class Activity (2)
Social Scenario 1: emotion – resentment
Jane said in the waiting room, that the interview would be straight forward, but was sure that the job would nevertheless go to Sara, as she was more experienced than her at psychometric testing. At interview Sara, excelled in the aptitude tests, but did poorly in the interview and Jane got the job. While pleased for her, Sara felt that Jane had led her into a false sense of security. Sara’s emotions may change to understanding if it becomes clear that Jane was extremely nervous about the interview. Jane’s nervousness caused her to talk too much, which served her well in the interview but gave Sara unrealistic expectations regarding her job chances.
Social Scenario 2: emotion – worry
John arrived home to find his father in tears. John asked what was wrong, his Father just sobbed. Something had obviously happened. If, it came to light that John’s father was crying because his mother had just died; the emotion would change from worry to sadness.
Social Scenario 3: emotion – fear
The plane would have to turn back if he didn’t jump. Mark could feel the sweat as he focused on the negative outcomes. What if the parachute doesn’t open? What if I break my legs? He never wanted to do a parachute jump. Even the noise of the plane couldn’t drown out the nagging voices in his head.
If over the radio, Mark hears his wife telling him how much she loves him, whether he does the parachute jump or not. Mark could forgo the jump and fear would be replaced with relief.
Brief Evaluation of Vignettes
The use of Vignettes is to provide a valuable technique for exploring a person’s beliefs and feelings about a specific situation. Short vignettes allow the writer to quickly create a social scene steeped in emotion, if used in the right way they can activate sensitive areas of inquiry. Finch (1987, p.105) describes them as “short stories in connection with imaginary characters in specified situations, to whose situation the interviewee is invited to respond”. When conducting a test using vignettes you have to also keep in mind that people have this preconception of what they “say” they would do or feel in a situation compared to what they would “actually” do or feel if they were in that same situation. Only on reflection can we, as humans, attempt to fully understand both our own and others actions as they relate to emotional experience.
Finch, J. (1987). The Vignette Technique in Survey Research. Sociology, 21, 105-14 Retrieved April 7, 2010
Out of Class Activity (3)
How facial expression can further our understanding of emotion.
Facial expressions do not just tell us how a person feels, but they can also indicate what someone is about to do or how they expect you to respond. Ekman (1992, para 2) posits, “The strongest evidence for distinguishing one emotion from another comes from research on facial expressions. There is robust, consistent evidence of a universal facial expression for anger, fear, enjoyment, sadness, and disgust”. Social interaction often requires interpretation of fleeting signals, such as facial micro-expressions and speech, which can also demand fine motor coordination (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). By examining these facial emotions closely, it has become clear that each has its own purpose. Fear keeps us safe by warning us of danger. Likewise, the feeling of disgust and recoil towards raw sewage protects us from disease. Psychologist Carroll Izard was one of the first psychologists to suggest that the face does, indeed, affect emotion (Izard, 1977). Izard found that emotions cause innately programmed changes in facial expression. He found that sensations from the face to the brain help us to determine what emotions we are feeling (Izard, 1991). This idea is known as facial feedback hypothesis (Soussignan, 2002).
However, using fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imagery), researchers are investigating how the brain processes emotion irrespective of facial expression (Morris et al. 1998). Before the advent of these scanners and presently, facial coding can be used to identify our emotions (Ekman, 2001). Some elements of facial expressions are obvious, for example, when a person is saddened the corners of the mouth turn down. On the other hand, if someone is attempting to conceal distress, their eyelids sag and there is lack of brightness within the eyes. Some may ascribe or confuse such an expression as boredom. A face of disgust can also be hard to distinguish from anger, but an expert can detect differences showing as wrinkles at the side of the nose. Yet Ekman (2001) states that when it comes to portraying a fake smile, 10% of people can contract the appropriate muscles that would suggest a genuine happiness. With this in mind, facial expressions alone may only be able to take our understanding of emotion so far without an additional cognitive approach. Considering that researchers do not even agree on what the basic lists of facial emotions are, this single approach will always need to be complimented with another.
Ekman, P. (1992). An argument for basic emotion cognition and emotion 6 169 – 200 Retrieved April 7 2010 from
Ekman, P. (2001). Smiling. In Blakemore, C. and Jennett, S. (Eds) The Oxford companion to the body(p. 630). New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
Hogg, M. A. & Vaughan, G. M. (2005). Social Psychology (4th ed.) Harlow: Prentice Hall
Izard, C. (1977). Human Emotions. New York: Plenum Press
Izard, C. (1991). The Psychology of Emotions. New York: Plenum Press
Morris, J. S., Friston, C., Buchel, C., Frith, C. D., Young, A. W., Calder, A. J and Dolan, R. J. (1998). A neuromodulatory role for the human amygdala in processing emotional facial expressions. Brain, 1, 47-57
Soussignan, R (2002). Emotion Duchenne Smile, emotional experience, and autonomic reactivity: a test of the facial feedback hypothesis. PubMed.gov Retrieved April 1 2010 from
Out of Class Activity (4)
Evaluation on social psychological approaches to emotion.
When it comes to studying emotion, like other areas of psychology, the research tends to be eclectic. Research is conducted in accord with the standards of the scientific method (McQueen & Knusen, 1999). When studying emotion, qualitative research methods include interviews, observation and participant observation. Quantitative research on the other hand, lends itself to the statistical testing of hypotheses. These include:
Experiments are conducted in a laboratory under controlled conditions and experimenters rely on several types of possible measurements including reaction time or other psychometric measurements. Each experiment is designed to test a specific hypothesis. While allowing for a substantial amount of control, findings can have limited ecological validity. However, if one wanted to categorise facial emotions, for example, photographs could be shown to participants in a lab setting and then sorted according to the emotion displayed.
Surveys can be used to measure attitudes and emotional beliefs or monitoring changes in mood. These are most commonly paper and pencil utilities. However, modern surveys must be carefully constructed to help prevent inaccurate or inconsistent responses from subjects. There is always the danger again that a subject can be at odds with what they say and what they actually feel.
This is a research method which observes people over time. For example, one might wish to study emotional changes as children grow up. These studies can suffer from participant drop out. Additionally, because differences between individuals in the group are not controlled, it can be difficult to draw conclusions about the populations.
Observation in natural settings
Psychologists can conduct observational research during social interactions. Sometimes participants are aware that they are being observed, otherwise it is covert. In terms of emotion research, if subjects are aware that they are being observed, then this can drastically effect any conclusions.
Qualitative and descriptive research
Descriptive research can be qualitative or quantitative in orientation, but this is designed to answer questions about an individual’s feelings or thoughts. While well suited to studying emotion, it can lack predictive validity.
Functional Neuroimaging can be used to examine the activity of the brain during task performance. For example, what changes are observed in the brain when an individual becomes angry may allow psychologists to understand the biology behind each emotion, irrespective of external cues like facial expression.
These approaches can essentially be split into biological and more psychological in nature. Because each is limited to some extent, it makes sense to take an eclectic approach where possible.
McQueen, A . R. and Knusen C. (1999). Research Methods in Psychology: a practical introduction. London: Prentice Hall
Out of Class Activity (5)
Similarities and Differences in patterns of emotion between young children and adults.
With many additional years of experience behind them, you would expect an adult’s emotional behaviour to be radically different to their childish counterparts and to some extent this is correct. Gao, Maurer and Nishimura, (2010) tested subjects on how well they could correctly identify facial emotions. While 7 year olds scored the lowest number of correct responses, 14 year olds showed a similar score to adults, however their judgements differed in line with physical rather than emotional observations. Children’s perception of facial expressions is not based purely on physical differences and it reflects in part at least the perception of expressed emotion (Bimler & Kirkland, 2001). Choudhury, Blakemore and Charrian, (2006) also suggest that the still developing cognitive abilities of children may limit their ability to interpret information from some facial expressions. Gao et al. (2010) concluded that an adult emotional-like representation of facial expressions develops slowly during childhood but does this mean that their internal pattern of emotional expression is also different?
Certain aspects of brain organisation for emotion in children appear to be quite similar to those in adults. Historically, evidence has suggested that 5 to 14-year-olds show a right-hemisphere advantage for discriminating emotional faces (Saxby & Bryden, 1985) and emotional tone of voice (Saxby & Bryden, 1984). They also show a bias, similar to that of adults, to perceive emotional chimeric faces as happier when the smile is in the left visual field.
On the other hand, patterns of emotion can remain very similar, but simply be expressed in a different way. For example, parenting style is known to affect how children will respond emotionally to events as a child and later as an adult (Collins & Stephen, 1990). Additionally, attachment styles as a child can convincingly predict the success or failure of future relationships and feelings of inner-satisfaction.
While emotional response may change in the way it is expressed as one gets older, there are nevertheless a number of constants that remain. The similarities may go unnoticed as research with children is ethically more problematic.
Bimler, D. & Kirkland, J. (2001). Categorical perception of facial expressions of emotion. Evidence from multidimensional scaling. Cognition & Emotion 15 (5) 633-658. London: Psychology Press
Choudhury, S. Blakemore, S.J. and Charman, T. (2006). Social Cognitive development during adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 1 (3) 165-174. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Collins, L. N. and Stephen, J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58 (4), 644-663
Gao, X., Maurer, D. and Nishimura, M. (2010). Similarities and differences in the perceptual structure of facial expressions of children and adults. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 105 (1-2), 98-115
Saxby, L. and Bryden, M. P. (1984). Left-ear superiority in children for processing auditory material. Developmental Psychology. 20, 72-80
Saxby, L. and Bryden, M. P. (1985). Left-visual-field advantage in children for processing emotional stimuli. Developmental Psychology. 21, 253-261
Out of class activity (6)
This is Tony Blair. He is famous for being our Prime Minister from 1997-2007. In the picture below he is displaying a true smile.
In the picture above, he is displaying what would be considered a genuine smile, where muscles surrounding the mouth area curve in an upward manner in the corners (Harris & Alvarado, 2005). However, a true smile involves more than just the muscles surrounding the mouth. Such an expression leads the zygomatic muscles of the eyes and cheek to constrict, causing the skin at the corners of the eyes to crease.
Researchers believe that a true smile indicates real emotions because of the specific muscles used. Some of these muscles are not under our conscious control, specifically the ones around the eyes (Mahan, Moskowitz, Carpenter and Branan, 2009). Recent work has shown that additional to the different facial muscles involved, a different area of the brain is activated. Positive emotions come from the left prefrontal cortex. This relationship can also work in reverse whereby putting on a true smile can activate the pleasure centre and make one happy (Ekman, 2001).
This is Tony Blair. He is famous for being our Prime Minister from 1997-2007. In the picture below he is displaying a fake smile.
In contrast, this second picture shows Tony Blair displaying a fake smile for a Christmas card. This forced smile is also frequently used by people within the service industry as they greet customers. Fake smiles typically use less muscle than their real counterparts and the context in which a photograph appears can often give clues whether the smile is real or not.
A fake smile is less likely to be as symmetrical as a real smile, as voluntary control of the zygomaticus major is not always perfect. If you look at the time line of a genuine smile, the smile will last for up to five seconds, were as a fake smile can endure longer. Though a fake smile can be persuasive and can even cause the eyes to scrunch up, with practice, many people can distinguish a fake smile from a genuine smile.
Guillaume Duchenne a 19th century French neurologist discovered the distinction between the muscles used in real and fake smiles. Wiseman (2006) found that people were generally very good at spotting a fake smile. In a 2008 Wiseman experiment participants were invited to view ten pairs of photographs of smiling faces; each pair contained one false smile. Subjects simply had to pick out the authentic one. People managed to correctly identify 72% of the real smiles. However, facial expressions can be difficult to measure objectively and Ekman and Friesen (1978) developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), to help with this problem. The FACS is based on action units that are equivalent to the smallest visible units of muscular activity in the face. Focusing on these purely descriptive accounts removes any interpretation when classifying a smile as real or fake.
Ekman, P. and Friesen, W. (1978). Facial action coding system: a technique for the measurement of facial movement. Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press
Ekman, P. (2001). Smiling. In Blakemore, C. and Jennett, S. (Eds) The Oxford companion to the body. New York. Oxford University Press Inc.
Harris, C.R., & Alvarado, N. (2005). Facial expressions, smile types, and self-report during humour, tickle, and pain. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 665-669.
Mahan, R., Moskowitz, C., Carpenter, S. and Branan, N. (2009). Headlines: spotting a fake smile. Scientific American Mind, (12) 67
Wiseman, R. (2008). Quirkology: how we discover the big truths in small things, New York: Basic Books
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