Does the family environment affect the recognition of brief displays of emotion?

Felisberti, Fatima, Trueman, Jane, Cobley, Laura, Hall, Emily and Williams, Alexandra (2014) Does the family environment affect the recognition of brief displays of emotion? In: Experimental Psychology Society London Meeting; 09 - 10 Jan 2014, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Ekman and Friesen (1971) argued that it was hard to conceal facial expressions of emotion for up to 200 ms from their start and such “leaked” emotional expressions were referred to as microexpressions. We investigated whether family factors such as the birth order and the number of siblings could modulate an observer’s ability to recognize the microexpressions of anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy and sadness, displayed for 100 ms or 200 ms. It was hypothesized that observers with many siblings would be better at recognizing microexpressions than observers with no siblings. The results showed large individual differences in accuracy. The recognition of fear in observers with 0-1 sibling was significantly better than in observers with ≥ 2 siblings. Middle-born siblings were usually less accurate in recognizing anger, contempt, fear and sadness than their first- and late-born siblings (i.e. eldest and youngest siblings). Overall, observers from large families tended to be less accurate than the ones from smaller families, contradicting our initial prediction. The results suggest that the family structure in one’s childhood can modulate the recognition of microexpressions in adults, particularly in relation to fear. We will also discuss the role of parental style in the recognition of microexpressions.

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