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Cogn Emot. 2019 Mar;33(2):272-287. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2018.1450224. Epub 2018 Mar 14.

Affective theory of mind inferences contextually influence the recognition of emotional facial expressions.

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a Department of Psychology , University of Chester , Chester , UK.
b Department of Psychology , Northumbria University , Newcastle upon Tyne , UK.
c Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology , University of Manchester , Manchester , UK.


The recognition of emotional facial expressions is often subject to contextual influence, particularly when the face and the context convey similar emotions. We investigated whether spontaneous, incidental affective theory of mind inferences made while reading vignettes describing social situations would produce context effects on the identification of same-valenced emotions (Experiment 1) as well as differently-valenced emotions (Experiment 2) conveyed by subsequently presented faces. Crucially, we found an effect of context on reaction times in both experiments while, in line with previous work, we found evidence for a context effect on accuracy only in Experiment 1. This demonstrates that affective theory of mind inferences made at the pragmatic level of a text can automatically, contextually influence the perceptual processing of emotional facial expressions in a separate task even when those emotions are of a distinctive valence. Thus, our novel findings suggest that language acts as a contextual influence to the recognition of emotional facial expressions for both same and different valences.


Theory of mind; context; emotion; face processing; inference

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