Automatic Integration of Social Information in Emotion Recognition

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This study investigated the automaticity of the influence of social inference on emotion recognition. Participants were asked to recognize dynamic facial expressions of emotion (fear or anger in Experiment 1 and blends of fear and surprise or of anger and disgust in Experiment 2) in a target face presented at the center of a screen while a subliminal contextual face appearing in the periphery expressed an emotion (fear or anger) or not (neutral) and either looked at the target face or not. Results of Experiment 1 revealed that recognition of the target emotion of fear was improved when a subliminal angry contextual face gazed toward—rather than away from—the fearful face. We replicated this effect in Experiment 2, in which facial expression blends of fear and surprise were more often and more rapidly categorized as expressing fear when the subliminal contextual face expressed anger and gazed toward—rather than away from—the target face. With the contextual face appearing for 30 ms in total, including only 10 ms of emotion expression, and being immediately masked, our data provide the first evidence that social influence on emotion recognition can occur automatically.

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