Our facial expressions convey important emotional information during social interactions. But what influences how others perceive those emotions? Scientists have investigated whether ethnicity and the direction of a person’s gaze might be involved. They digitised the faces of German and Asian people (pictured) and animated the faces to express happiness or anger while facing either forward or off to one side. German and Asian volunteers were then asked to rate the positivity of the digitised expressions. It turned out that when the digitised faces looked straight ahead it improved the observers’ perception of emotion, but only if the ethnicity of the observer and digital face differed. If ethnicity was shared, the observers could in general accurately detect emotion no matter the direction of the digital gaze. Perhaps the take home message is, if you want a foreigner to know you’re happy, look them in the eye!
Written by Ruth Williams