Good Essay On Examination Of Research For The Facial Feedback Hypothesis Of Emotional Experience And Suggestion For Future Research

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Emotions, Body Language, Facial, Expression, Aliens, Study, Feedback, Education

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/10/18


This paper discusses specific research studies and developments of the facial feedback hypothesis (FFH) of emotional experience. The influence of facial expressions on emotional experience is established, and sincerity and awareness of expressions are investigated. Physical influences of facial expressions are briefly discussed as well as the effects of long-term cultural suppression of emotions. The emotional congruence and perceptions of individuals are investigated in terms of recognizing and interpreting others facial expressions. An extensive assessment tool for recognizing and perceiving facial expressions is an important development in the FFH research. Research has shown that the FFH plays a role in the social and emotional malfunctioning for some mental disorders. This paper discusses flaws in some of the reviewed studies as well as overall limits to the research. Finally, this paper suggests future direction for FFH research, and proposes a study that would be a useful development and application of the FFH research.
Individuals use facial expressions as a guide for social interaction. Being able to recognize and interpret a person’s emotions through their facial expressions is critical for successful social functioning. The emotional feedback an individual receives through facial expressions plays a greater role than helping them communicate with others; it also influences the emotions of the individual. For example, if an individual sees someone smiling at them they will likely return the smile; and according to the facial feedback hypothesis of emotional experience, moving the facial muscles into a facial expression can be enough to influence emotional experience (Breedlove, Watson, & Rosenzweig, 2013). Whether or not an individual was initially experiencing an emotion, forming a facial expression can affect their emotional experience and emotional processing. Research has shown that a facial expression can also influence a person’s emotional perception and reaction. The original facial feedback hypothesis (FFH) of emotional experience was developed decades ago, but it has developed and permeated many different aspects of emotional and social functioning (Breedlove et al., 2013). Reviewing and examining research associated with the FFH shows how integral facial expressions are to emotional experience, how far the FFH has developed, and how applicable the FFH is to psychological wellness and impairment.
Dimberg, Thunberg, and Elmehed (2000) performed a study in which they exposed participants unconsciously to facial expressions. They accomplished this by showing participants pictures of facial expressions for 30 milliseconds immediately followed by a picture of a neutral facial expression for 5 seconds. Participants never consciously perceived the target pictures which contained either a happy, neutral, or angry face. They measured muscle regions used for smiling and frowning, and proposed that if participants could unconsciously give facial reactions to the target expressions than a happy face would cause more smiling muscle activity than an angry face. This study was based on previous research showing that individuals emotionally react, and show facial reactions, to facial expressions (Dimberg et al., 2000).
The results showed that each group reacted with corresponding facial expressions to their target pictures regardless of the identical neutral faces used in each group after the target pictures (Dimberg et al., 2000). Dimberg et al. (2000) admitted that these responses could be due to mimicry, but that they also showed that facial reactions can occur rapidly and unconsciously. They related the results to the FFH and proposed that evoking facial reactions may be an important factor in emotional experience (Dimberg et al., 2000). This evidence provided a basis for the unconscious nature of the relationship between facial feedback and expressions. However, the next step for the FFH is whether genuine expressions affect emotional experience differently than artificial ones.
Kraft and Pressman (2012) wanted to determine if smiling contributed to the effects of positive affect on stress. Positive affect can help buffer against the negative physiological effects of stress, and they proposed that facial expressions may be related to the cardiovascular response to stress. They also tried to discover if types of smiles, and awareness of smiling, affected this response because there is FFH evidence that there is not much differentiation in the brain whether or not facial muscles are activated intentionally (Kraft, & Pressman, 2012). Based on the FFH, Kraft and Pressman (2012) expected smiling participants to keep a more positive affect than nonsmiling participants after stressful tasks; and they measured positive affect through the physiological response of heart rate. They divided participants into three groups comprised of a neutral expression group, a standard smile group, and a Duchenne smile group. A Duchenne smile was created by having participants place a chopstick horizontally into their teeth to force their facial muscles to contract into a smile. All participants received assistance and images to ensure they activated the correct muscles, and a coding system was used to ensure validity. All participants completed stressful tasks, and were not aware of the purpose of the study (Kraft, & Pressman, 2012).
Kraft and Pressman (2012) found that both smiling groups had lower heart rates than the neutral group during stress recovery. Furthermore, the Duchenne smiling group did not experience as much decrease in positive affect as the neutral group during the stressful task. They proposed that there may be pathways between facial-muscle activity and autonomic activity that occur outside of conscious emotion (Kraft, & Pressman, 2012). This research demonstrated a measurable, physical response to an artificially created smile, and helped to develop the FFH toward health related topics. However, due to the artificial setting and manipulation the results may not be generalizable to the real world, and further research is needed to determine if facial expressions could be a useful coping strategy for stressful situations.
After reviewing variations and questions proposed by the FFH, Soussignan (2002) concluded that all variations of the hypothesis claim that facial action can cause and affect subjective emotional experience. Research has shown that all smiles do not necessarily indicate positive emotions, and vice versa. However, a Duchenne smile, as previously indicated, has been pinpointed as a sincere and emotionally felt smile that differs in “experiential, situational, and cerebral correlates” from other smiles (Soussignan, 2002, p. 55). Soussignan (2002) aimed to first, replicate previous results in which manipulated facial muscles influenced self-reported emotions and the autonomic nervous system; second, determine if Duchenne smiles affected these responses differently than non-Duchenne smiles; and third, determine whether different smiles were positively related to the intensity of the stimuli.
The results confirmed that causing an individual to unconsciously smile, a Duchenne smile, influenced emotional experience (Soussignan, 2002). Also, the Duchenne smile group had more intense reactions to the pleasant and funny stimuli compared to other groups. Finally, participants in the Duchenne smile group produced stronger facial reactions to positive stimuli than negative, and this effect was seen in both self-reports of emotional experience and in reactions of the autonomic nervous system. However, the intensity of the effects of Duchenne smiles was not different for mild and strong stimuli, and so the hypothesis concerning intensity was not confirmed (Soussignan, 2002). This research gives strength to the FFH research by replicating principle results, and furthers it by its implications of the differential responses to positive and negative stimuli.
Niedenthal, Brauer, Halberstadt, and Innes-Ker (2001) investigated these differences between positive and negative stimuli and approached the FFH with the concept of mimicry and emotional congruence. They proposed that mimicry can be influenced by the perceiver’s current emotions, and that congruent emotions require less effort to mimic. For example, if a person is feeling sad and another person smiles at them, it is more difficult for the person to mimic the smile than if they were feeling happy. In their study, Niedenthal et al. (2001) hypothesized that an initial emotion affects how one perceives facial expressions when the response causes a change from congruent to incongruent emotions; and this effect is contradictory to the way an initial emotion affects perception of changes from incongruent to congruent emotions. After a person quickly mimics an emotion congruent expression, they can quickly tell when the expression changes to an incongruent emotion due to the changes in their own faces. Also, when a person does not quickly mimic an incongruent emotion, and then their expression changes to a congruent one, there is less of a change in facial responding and the change will not be noticed until later (Niedenthal et al., 2001).
The results confirmed that individuals notice the changes in the emotions of facial expressions earlier if it changes from congruent to incongruent emotions of the perceiver. Niedenthal et al. (2001) stated that this can be explained through the influence of facial feedback and facial mimicry. This research expands the scope of the FFH by including the initial emotions of the perceiver as a force in mimicry, and further displaying the effects of facial feedback on emotions and vice versa. Incorporating how initial emotions and perceptions interact with the FFH builds a framework that can begin to be applied and understood in terms of real world interactions.
Neal and Chartrand (2011) investigated how perceptions of facial expressions affect how one interprets a person’s emotions. They investigated whether accuracy of emotion perception declines when facial feedback is reduced. They used Botox injections to paralyze expressive facial muscles and reduce facial feedback. Next, they investigated whether accuracy of emotion perception increases when facial feedback is intensified. To intensify facial expressions the researchers applied a restrictive gel on faces which strengthened facial feedback signals to the brain. The results of the first experiment showed that a decrease in facial feedback led to impaired emotion perception, and this supported evidence that Botox dulls emotional reactions to stimuli (Neal, & Chartrand, 2011). This also suggested that facial feedback broadly effects emotional processing, reactivity, and perception. The second experiment showed that amplified facial feedback signals led to higher accuracy of facial emotions (Neal, & Chartrand). Both of these results support and expand on the FFH by displaying the influence of facial feedback on not only emotion, but also on perception of emotion in others. Neal and Chartrand (2011) have shown that facial feedback and expression are an important factor in social interaction by contributing to decoding emotions in others.
Davis, Senghas, and Ochsner (2009) performed a study to investigate how inhibiting facial expressions effects both positive and negative emotional experience. They aimed to accomplish this without participants being aware of the purpose of the study or any connection between expression and emotion, and while controlling for distraction effects. Their last goal was to explore whether other cognitive processes were involved in the FFH. The new distraction method that Davis et al. (2009) utilized was the arithmetic task of counting backwards by threes during stimuli viewing. Participants were told that the researchers were monitoring brain activity associated with memory and attention, and watched a positive, a negative, and two neutral video clips. Participants were either given instructions to hold their faces still, inhibiting expression, or given distraction instructions (Davis et al., 2009).
The results showed that facial inhibition instructions caused decreased facial expression and weaker emotional experience, but the distraction instructions caused no expression or emotional change (Davis et al., 2009). The debriefing after the test convinced the researchers that participants were not aware of the purpose of the study, and had tried to keep their faces physically still rather than using other strategies for expression inhibition (Davis et al., 2009). This research offers new and supportive evidence for the FFH because artificially created facial expressions had been shown to influence emotion, but empirical findings that show the inverse influence for the opposite behavior is just as important in proving that the influence is significant. If inhibiting facial expressions can lead to weaker emotional experiences, then suppressed emotions may influence facial expressiveness.
Murata, Moser, and Kitayama (2012) investigated the cultural differences between the emotional expressions of Asians and European Americans, and whether this affected each cultures emotional processing or suppression. They stated that Asians are taught to suppress emotional expression and always remain calm, and value social harmony over individual inner emotions; whereas, European Americans are encouraged to express their personal emotions and opinions, and value uniqueness of the inner self. They suggested that long-term cultural training in Asian cultures had caused reduced emotional reactivity (Murata et al., 2012).
In their study, Murata, Moser, and Kitayama (2012) hypothesized that Asians would have learned to restrain emotional processing in order to suppress expression, and also that European Americans would not try to modify emotional processing in order to suppress expression. Each cultural group was divided into a passive viewing group and a group instructed to suppress emotion. The groups were shown pictures of either neutral household objects, or extremely unpleasant pictures that evoke negative emotions, and emotional processing was measured with an electroencephalogram and an electrooculogram. The results confirmed both hypotheses, and added support to the FFH by providing evidence that extended suppression of emotional expression results in suppression of emotional processing (Murata et al., 2012). Therefore, this research is an example of how facial expressions can influence emotional experiences over long periods of time, and in real world settings.
Wilhelm, Hildebrandt, Manske, Schacht, and Sommer (2014) attempted to create an assessment tool for testing a person’s ability to perceive and recognize facial emotion expressions. They developed 16 tasks that were judged by accuracy or speed of identification; both for initial perception and later recognition. These tasks were based on neuro-cognitive processes, a broad number of stimuli, research of basic emotions including individual differences, and included a variety of tasks. Wilhelm et al. (2014) compared different ways of scoring the measure for several tasks, and concluded that their final scoring procedures were comprehensive and psychometrically sound.
Their research was not an aim at discovering new phenomena relating to facial expression and emotions, but to present assessment tools that were varied, valid, and reliable. They concluded that their compilation of tests were advantageous to any other available measures because of the detailed and methodical methods, the integration of relevant concepts and procedures, and the variation of tasks and stimuli (Wilhelm et al., 2014). Wilhelm et al. (2014) claimed that perception and recognition of facial emotion expressions are critical skills for socio-emotional functioning, and they proposed that further research should investigate distinctions between speed and accuracy, and between perception and recognition. This current research applies the FFH in a utilitarian way because once these skills can be accurately measured; the next step will be how to improve these skills when they are impaired.
Joormann and Gotlib (2006) applied FHH to psychological disorders based on the concept that being able to recognize emotions through facial expressions is an integral part of social and emotional functioning; and therefore, impairment of this ability could be a contributing cause to social and emotional malfunctioning. This led them to investigate facial emotion recognition in individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and social phobia (SP). Joormann and Gotlib (2006) hypothesized that participants would identify congruent emotions earlier than incongruent ones. Namely, MDD participants would recognize sad expressions more quickly and happy expressions later than SP and control participants, and SP participants would recognize angry expressions more quickly than MDD or control participants. Joormann and Gotlib’s (2006) second hypothesis was that MDD participants would recognize sad expressions more quickly than angry, and SP participants would recognize angry expressions more quickly than sad. Level of intensity was one method used to measure how quickly facial emotion expressions could be identified (Joormann, & Gotlib, 2006).
The results supported the hypotheses, and MDD participants recognized sad expressions at far less intensity than was required for the other groups, and could not identify angry or happy expressions until they were shown with far greater intensity than the other groups required. SP participants displayed the same results in relation to angry expressions, and were far more sensitive, requiring less intensity, to angry expressions than the other two groups. Joormann and Gotlib (2006) stated that this evidence showed that MDD and SP are linked to specific biases in recognizing facial expressions of emotion, and MDD participants were particularly biased towards recognizing happy expressions which required the highest frequency of intensity out of any emotion or group. They further proposed that differences in the ability to correctly identify and label small changes in facial expressions of emotion could be used to predict interpersonal functioning (Joormann, & Gotlib, 2006). This research provides an example of how the FFH can be utilized in clinical theories and aid in developing more effective treatment practices. The measures that Wilhelm et al. (2014) developed could be an important tool for screening facial expression recognition impairments in these disorders, and further research could help determine the results of specific types of impairments and indicate forms of treatments.
Turetsky et al. (2007) proposed that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have a reduced ability to recognize facial emotions also, and that this may contribute to malfunctioning emotional processing. Their study focused on temporal processing, and participants were shown stimuli very briefly while their eye movements and electrical potentials were recorded. The stimuli included two levels of intensity for both happy and sad facial expressions as well as a neutral expression. The results showed that the control group was better able to recognize facial emotion expressions than the schizophrenic patients overall. However, the schizophrenic patients who were better able to recognize happy faces correlated with less negative symptoms (Turetsky et al., 2007). Turetsky et al. (2007) suggested that this inverse relationship indicated that more severe impairment in facial emotion recognition is tempered by specific symptoms of schizophrenia. This research shows how the FFH can be applied to complex psychological disorders in order to further understand symptoms and areas of malfunction. It also further supports the application of the FFH in a clinical setting, and the need for further research on how facial expression recognition impairments affect different mental disorders; and how to use the FFH body of research to develop treatments.
This research has shown many developments of the FFH and the concluding studies showed that this research could be useful in a clinical setting. Many of these studies were designed methodically and with extensive manipulations. Although this may uncover attributes of the FFH, the artificial settings limit the results. Many of the studies claimed that the participants were unaware of the hypotheses being tested; however, the facial manipulation and emotionally provocative stimuli could have led to participant bias. In Davis et al.’s (2009) study, the participants said during debriefing that they were completely focused on keeping their faces completely still rather than using any other expression inhibiting strategy. First, this assertion cannot be quantifiably confirmed; and second, complete focus on keeping the facial muscles still could have influenced the participant’s emotions rather than the lack of facial expression. The distraction group’s emotion were not as weak as the inhibition group, but the inhibition groups task may have been far more distracting than counting backwards by threes. The Botox used by Neal and Chartrand (2011) was a much more reliable way to ensure facial paralysis while allowing participants to focus on the stimuli.
There was also a possible theoretical paradox in Niadenthal et al.’s (2001) study concerning emotional congruence and perception. The hypotheses were based on the idea that initial emotions will affect facial feedback; however, the researchers could not ensure that participants were feeling the initial emotions that the researchers were trying to manipulate. By their own theory, the emotions felt by the participants when they came in for the study could have affected how easily or quickly they adapted the baseline initial emotions for the experiments; and therefore, the results of the study.
Applying the principles of the FFH to clinical disorders is a very useful and important function of FFH research. This area of research requires further development to aid in understanding the disorders better as well as to instigate related treatments. For example, a study could be done with individuals with Major Depressive Disorder to see if sensitivity to happy facial expressions could be increased. Participants could be taught to distinguish very subtle happy expressions from neutral ones by gradually learning to identify them beginning with high intensity expressions. During this process researchers should teach participants the visible facial cues of happy facial expressions so that they can learn to recognize these signs and become more sensitive to them. Afterwards, participants would need to be evaluated to assess if a greater sensitivity to happy expressions had any effect on their social or emotional interaction.
This paper has reviewed a portion of the extensive research that supports and develops the FFH, and the more that is learned about its functions and parameters the more it can be utilized in meaningful ways. Not all of the research was flawless, but the repetition and overlap of hypotheses provided a solid understanding of the possibilities and certainties of the FFH.


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