Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Emotions and Faces

The Boston Magazine has an interesting article "About Face" by Shannon Fischer.
The first part is a nice example how different methods of asking questions can lead to different results:
She starts with

"Ekman had traveled the globe with photographs that showed faces experiencing six basic emotions—happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise. Everywhere he went, from Japan to Brazil to the remotest village of Papua New Guinea, he asked subjects to look at those faces and then to identify the emotions they saw on them. To do so, they had to pick from a set list of options presented to them by Ekman. The results were impressive. Everybody, it turned out, even preliterate Fore tribesmen in New Guinea who’d never seen a foreigner before in their lives, matched the same emotions to the same faces."


“Honestly, this is going to sound terrible,” Lisa Barrett told me when I asked her about Ekman and his original study. “But at first, when I read that work, I thought, Well, nobody can take this seriously. This can’t possibly be right. It’s too cartoonish.”
"She returned to those famous cross-cultural studies that had launched Ekman’s career—and found that they were less than watertight. The problem was the options that Ekman had given his subjects when asking them to identify the emotions shown on the faces they were presented with. Those options, Barrett discovered, had limited the ways in which people allowed themselves to think.

Barrett explained the problem to me this way: “I can break that experiment really easily, just by removing the words. I can just show you a face and ask how this person feels. Or I can show you two faces, two scowling faces, and I can say, ‘Do these people feel the same thing?’ And agreement drops into the toilet.” "

And here is an interesting part: Maybe a key feature to be a successful scientist.. After a rejection of a paper that finds results that differ from the original Ekman study from Science:

"“I felt fed up,” she told me, describing her reaction. “I just felt like, Why am I banging my head against a wall? Life is short. What the hell am I doing? Clearly people don’t give a shit about data, because if they did, I wouldn’t have this battle on my hands.” She paused. “I did feel that way for about 10 minutes. And then I took a step back and said, ‘Okay, I’ve seen reviews like this before.’”

" “Science is about persevering in the face of ambiguity and, oftentimes, adversity,” she says. “And the data, in the end, will point the way.”"

HT: Marginalrevolution

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