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MCAT

Unit 4: Lesson 1

Foundations of behavior passages

Why do we believe that there are universal emotions?

Problem

There are 6 universal emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust; each can be identified by universally produced facial muscle movements. Culturally linked emotional expressions also exist, such as winking or raising one eyebrow. In addition, the triggers for the display of emotion are often linked to cultural factors, such as Western cultures’ propensity to display emotion more openly than Eastern cultures.
Darwin believed facial muscles signaled emotion and since the configuration of the facial muscles is universal, facial expressions enhanced communication. This, in turn, led to an increased chance of survival. In 1971, Ekman and Friesen published a study which supported the Darwinian viewpoint. They visited a Neolithic, preliterate culture in New Guinea called the Fore people, which had been isolated from Western contact until 12 years earlier. Only subjects that met very specific criteria were recruited, amounting to less than 3, percent of the total Fore population. A judgment task was given through a translator, who was instructed that there were no correct answers for the task. The translator told a well-rehearsed story which is shown in Table 1. After the story, subjects were presented 3 pictures, each displaying a different emotion (1 correct, 2 distractors). These pictures had to be correctly identified by at least 70, percent of the literate participants of Western or Eastern ancestry in a previous study. The subject was asked to point to the picture presented, which displayed the emotion that the subject believed was being described. Table 1 displays universal emotions along with the corresponding story that was told to study subjects.
Table 1
Universal emotionStory told to subject
HappinessFriends have come to visit and he or she is happy.
SadnessA family member (such as a child) has died.
AngerThe subject is angry and about to fight.
DisgustThe subject is looking at something that smells bad.
SurpriseThe subject is seeing something new or unexpected.
FearThe village is empty, there are no weapons, and the subject is attacked.
The null hypothesis was that there are no differences between the subjects representing the Fore tribe and the subjects representing Western or Eastern culture. No statistically significant differences were found in identification of emotions between groups except in the discrimination of fear from surprise and sadness, when the emotion described in the story was fear. Often, the subject could not tell the gender of the person but was still able to correctly identify the picture displaying the correct facial expression. Table 2 displays the results of the Fore Tribe responses in identifying the correct photograph corresponding with the correct emotion in the story.
Table 2
Emotion described in storyEmotion shown in correct photographEmotion shown in the first distractor photographEmotion shown in the second distractor photograph% choosing correct photograph
HappinessHappinessFearAnger86
SadnessSadnessAngerDisgust69
AngerAngerSurpriseSadness81
DisgustDisgustSurpriseSadness77
SurpriseSurpriseHappinessAnger65
FearFearSurpriseSadness28
Adapted from: Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants Across Cultures in the Face and Emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 11, 124-129.
What bias between the Fore people and Westerners could produce confounding results with the usage of the fear story (Table 1)?
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