Recognizing Spontaneous Facial Expressions of Emotion in a Small-Scale Society of Papua New Guinea

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We report 2 studies on how residents of Papua New Guinea interpret facial expressions produced spontaneously by other residents of Papua New Guinea. Members of a small-scale indigenous society, Trobrianders (Milne Bay Province; N = 32, 14 to 17 years) were shown 5 facial expressions spontaneously produced by members of another small-scale indigenous society, Fore (Eastern Highlands Province) that Ekman had photographed, labeled, and published in The Face ofMan (1980), each as an expression of a basic emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, and disgust. Trobrianders were asked to use any word they wanted to describe how each person shown felt and to provide valence and arousal ratings. Other Trobrianders (N = 24, 12 to 14 years) were shown the same photographs but asked to choose their response from a short list. In both studies, agreement with Ekman’s predicted labels was low: 0% to 16% and 13% to 38% of observers, respectively.

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