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Psychol Sci. 2003 Jul;14(4):373-6.

Nonverbal "accents": cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


We report evidence for nonverbal "accents," subtle differences in the appearance of facial expressions of emotion across cultures. Participants viewed photographs of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans in which posers' muscle movements were standardized to eliminate differences in expressions, cultural or otherwise. Participants guessed the nationality of posers displaying emotional expressions at above-chance levels, and with greater accuracy than they judged the nationality of the same posers displaying neutral expressions. These findings indicate that facial expressions of emotion can contain nonverbal accents that identify the expresser's nationality or culture. Cultural differences are intensified during the act of expressing emotion, rather than residing only in facial features or other static elements of appearance. This evidence suggests that extreme positions regarding the universality of emotional expressions are incomplete.

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