Acting surprised : comparing perceptions of different dynamic deliberate expressions

Zloteanu, Mircea, Krumhuber, Eva G. and Richardson, Daniel C. (2021) Acting surprised : comparing perceptions of different dynamic deliberate expressions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 45, pp. 169-185. ISSN (print) 0191-5886


People are accurate at classifying emotions from facial expressions but much poorer at determining if such expressions are spontaneously felt or deliberately posed. We explored if the method used by senders to produce an expression influences the decoder’s ability to discriminate authenticity, drawing inspiration from two well-known acting techniques: the Stanislavski (internal) and Mimic method (external). We compared spontaneous surprise expressions in response to a jack-in-the-box (genuine condition), to posed displays of senders who either focused on their past affective state (internal condition) or the outward expression (external condition). Although decoders performed better than chance at discriminating the authenticity of all expressions, their accuracy was lower in classifying external surprise compared to internal surprise. Decoders also found it harder to discriminate external surprise from spontaneous surprise and were less confident in their decisions, perceiving these to be similarly intense but less genuine-looking. The findings suggest that senders are capable of voluntarily producing genuine-looking expressions of emotions with minimal effort, especially by mimicking a genuine expression. Implications for research on emotion recognition are discussed.

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