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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jun;102(6):1118-35. doi: 10.1037/a0026885. Epub 2012 Jan 30.

Social appraisal influences recognition of emotions.

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Laboratory for the Study of Emotion Elicitation and Expression (E3Lab), Department of Psychology, and Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.


The notion of social appraisal emphasizes the importance of a social dimension in appraisal theories of emotion by proposing that the way an individual appraises an event is influenced by the way other individuals appraise and feel about the same event. This study directly tested this proposal by asking participants to recognize dynamic facial expressions of emotion (fear, happiness, or anger in Experiment 1; fear, happiness, anger, or neutral in Experiment 2) in a target face presented at the center of a screen while a contextual face, which appeared simultaneously in the periphery of the screen, expressed an emotion (fear, happiness, anger) or not (neutral) and either looked at the target face or not. We manipulated gaze direction to be able to distinguish between a mere contextual effect (gaze away from both the target face and the participant) and a specific social appraisal effect (gaze toward the target face). Results of both experiments provided evidence for a social appraisal effect in emotion recognition, which differed from the mere effect of contextual information: Whereas facial expressions were identical in both conditions, the direction of the gaze of the contextual face influenced emotion recognition. Social appraisal facilitated the recognition of anger, happiness, and fear when the contextual face expressed the same emotion. This facilitation was stronger than the mere contextual effect. Social appraisal also allowed better recognition of fear when the contextual face expressed anger and better recognition of anger when the contextual face expressed fear.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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