Archived project

The role of perceptual fluency and categorisation easiness of facial display on social judgments and evaluations.

Goal: You walk down a busy street and scan the passing faces. Some you like, some you do not. Why? The general aim of the project is to describe the relationship between cognition, emotions and social judgments. It will be tested within everyday task – evaluation of human face. Introduced researches will test general hypothesis that easiness or difficulty in the categorization of facial emotional expression influences our basic social judgments, e.g. trustworthiness, liking etc. The main factor that impact this kind of judgments will be a “quality” of information processing. By the “quality” we may understand, that during any kind of processing, sometimes even before any specific features are extracted from the stimulus, the mental system has access to a nonspecific source of information -- the dynamics accompanying the processing of the stimulus. These non-specific aspects of processing are commonly described with use of a general term "fluency" (for reviews see Jacoby, Kelley, & Dywan, 1989; Schwarz & Clore, 1996). Unless there is an obvious external cause for feeling good or bad, affect can provide information about the current state of cognitive operations. Thus, high fluency of a perceptual or a conceptual process indicates progress toward, for example, successful recognition of the stimulus or a successful solution of a task. On the other hand, low fluency can be a signal of cognitive error or incompatibility, and play a motivational role in the revision of a processing strategy (Derryberry & Tucker, 1994).
Processing dynamics can also have affective consequences because it informs (probabilistically) whether an external stimulus is good or bad. For example, it’s known, at least since Titchener (1910), that familiar stimulus elicit a “warm glow.” Conversely, illusions of familiarity (oldness) can be produced through unobtrusive inductions of positive affect (Garcia-Marques & Mackie, 2000; Phaf & Rotteveel, 2005). One reason for this warmth-familiarity link could be biological predispositions for caution in encounters with a novel, and thus potentially harmful, stimuli Zajonc (1998). Other accounts suggest that familiarity is just a learned, “fast and frugal” heuristic for easily identifying choices that are in truth objectively better (Gigerenzer, 2007). Similarly, as we discuss next, dynamics could offer a probabilistic cue regarding other valued properties of external stimuli, such as symmetry, prototypicality, etc.


Most of the available evidence confirms that perceptual fluency impacts our fast and easy evaluations like “I like – I dislike” or “attractive-distractive”, however, none of them focused on so socially important feature as a human facial expression. Our everyday communication with other people largely relies on the face and facial display. Faces convey multiple types of information that are essential for inter-individual interactions. Among the many facial features, emotional expressions seem to play a central role, as they are crucial to infer the observed person’s state of mind, feelings and intentions (Plutchik, 1980; Fridlund, 1994; Ekman, 1997). Cross-cultural and psychological studies have shown that we can distinguish some categories of emotions as basic insofar as the facial displays related to these categories of emotion are similarly interpreted even among different cultures –(Ekman & Friesen, 1971). These emotions would correspond to fixed patterns of physiological activations and psychological states across individuals, and may typically occur as a response to the same kind of situations although there may be cultural variations in the extent to which they may be overtly displayed. Thus facial expressions of emotion such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, surprise, and disgust have universal form and meaning. The universality strongly implies that they may have been shaped and preserved by evolution and because of this they may have high processing fluency.

The project is devoted to analyzing affective and cognitive processing of facial expression as well as processes of social categorization and evaluation of the emotional expression in the context of clarity of displayed emotion. The general objective of the project will be to elucidate the relationship between the emotional display and social judgments. More precisely, the questions that we would like to answer are: Is there a direct relation between affective processing of faces and social judgments? How do the perceptual fluency impact emotion processing and the affective evaluation of faces?


We can assume that people judge other people according to emotional display, and the clarity of that display is an important source of information. The general hypotheses we will try to test within the introduced project is that:
- A Clear emotional expression has high processing fluency (which suggests that its recognition involves mainly a bottom-up process, being influenced mostly by early visual processing) which may cause generally positive affective feedback used as a cue during subsequent cognitive processes (Winkielman, Halberstadt, Fazendeiro & Catty 2006).
- By contrast, ambiguous or mixed emotion facial displays have low processing fluency (implying top-down processing, strongly influenced by more elaborate categorization) and as a return induce negative affective feedback, which causes more negative evaluation overall.
- Additionally, we can expect that difficulty in the categorization of ambiguous expression will cause deeper analysis of facial stimuli (involvement of attentional resources and improved facial memory) and need of additional information (more interest on displayer properties).

Date: 1 January 2012 - 1 January 2016

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Project log

Michal Olszanowski
added a research item
Social interactions require quick perception, interpretation, and categorization of faces, with facial features offering cues to emotions, intentions, and traits. Importantly, reactions to faces depend not only on their features but also on their processing fluency, with disfluent faces suffering social devaluation. The current research used electrophysiological (EEG) and behavioral measures to explore at what processing stage and under what conditions emotional ambiguity is detected in the brain and how it influences trustworthiness judgments. Participants viewed male and female faces ranging from pure anger, through mixed expressions, to pure happiness. They categorized each face along the experimental dimension (happy vs. angry) or a control dimension (gender). In the emotion-categorization condition, mixed (ambiguous) expressions were classified relatively slower, and their trustworthiness was rated relatively lower. EEG analyses revealed that early brain responses are independent of the categorization condition, with pure faces evoking larger P1/N1 responses than mixed expressions. Some late (728- 880 ms) brain responses from central-parietal sites also were independent of the categorization condition and presumably reflect familiarity of the emotion categories, with pure expressions evoking larger central-parietal LPP amplitude than mixed expressions. Interestingly, other late responses were sensitive to both expressive features and categorization task, with ambiguous faces evoking a larger LPP amplitude in frontal-medial sites around 560-660 ms but only in the emotion categorization task. Critically, these late responses from the frontal-medial cluster correlated with the reduction in trustworthiness judgments. Overall, the results suggest that ambiguity detection involves late, top-down processes and that it influences important social impressions.
Michal Olszanowski
added a research item
Facial features that resemble emotional expressions influence key social evaluations, including trust. Here, we present four experiments testing how the impact of such expressive features is qualified by their processing difficulty. We show that faces with mixed expressive features are relatively devalued, and faces with pure expressive features are relatively valued. This is especially true when participants first engage in a categorisation task that makes processing of mixed expressions difficult and pure expressions easy. Critically, we also demonstrate that the impact of categorisation fluency depends on the specific nature of the expressive features. When faces vary on valence (i.e. sad to happy), trust judgments increase with their positivity, but also depend on fluency. When faces vary on social motivation (i.e. angry to sad), trust judgments increase with their approachability, but remain impervious to disfluency. This suggests that people intelligently use fluency to make judgments on valence-relevant judgment dimensions – but not when faces can be judged using other relevant criteria, such as motivation. Overall, the findings highlight that key social impressions (like trust) are flexibly constructed from inputs related to stimulus features and processing experience.
Michal Olszanowski
added 2 research items
Niniejsza praca eksploruje procesy emocji i poznania społecznego w kontekście oceniania mimicznej ekspresji emocji. Prezentowane badanie sprawdza, czy poznawczy wysiłek związany z kategoryzacją ekspresji twarzy wpływa na wnioskowanie o czytelność intencji aktora i także na chęć jego bliższego poznania przez obserwatora. Zakładano, że ekspresja emocji podstawowych jest łatwo przetwarzana (szybko kategoryzowana), a osoba ją prezentująca – łatwo oceniana (np. ktoś z wyrazem złości – jako agresywny, z wyrazem radości – jako miły). Jednak nieczytelne/mieszane wyrazy mimiczne są trudne w przetwarzaniu (wolno kategoryzowane), co wywołuje negatywną reakcję i sądy. W trakcie eksperymentu uczestnikom pokazywano zdjęcia twarzy, których ekspresje komputerowo zmodyfikowano, przechodząc w 14 krokach od złości do radości. Zadanie polegało na jak najszybszej kategoryzacji wyrażanej emocji (złość lub radość), a następnie badany oceniał cechy widzianej twarzy (tj. jak czytelne są intencje osoby oraz czy chciałby ją poznać). Wyniki pokazały, że oceny twarzy z mieszanymi emocjami zostały obniżone w stosunku do prognozowanej liniowej tendencji wzrostu na wymiarze negatywno-pozytywnym (tj. im więcej radości, tym wyższa ocena). Artykuł dyskutuje potencjalny wpływ płynności przetwarzania na złożone sądy społeczne i wnioskowanie o cechach. This work examines the relation between emotion and social cognition in the context of evaluation of human facial expression. The presented study tests whether the effort of processing facial displays influences social judgments, such as intention clarity and willingness to meet. More precisely, we assume that facial displays of basic emotion have high fluency. This is reflected in fast categorization and easy attribution of social traits (e.g. anger – aggressive, happy – nice). However, unclear/ambiguous facial displays elicit disfluency. This difficulty of categorization and trait attribution causes negative reactions, which lowers social judgments. During the experiment participants saw pictures of emotional displays, each changing within 14 steps/frames into a different emotional category (e.g. angry to happy). Participants were asked to quickly categorize each picture on emotion, and then judge some displayer traits (e.g. intentions). Results support our hypothesis that faces with ambiguous emotional display are relatively devalued, as compared to the standard linear effect of positive expressive traits. We discuss possible consequences of categorization conflict on various socio-cognitive processes.
Facial features influence social evaluations. For example, faces are rated as more attractive and trustworthy when they have more smiling features and also more female features. However, the influence of facial features on evaluations should be qualified by the affective consequences of fluency (cognitive ease) with which such features are processed. Further, fluency (along with its affective consequences) should depend on whether the current task highlights conflict between specific features. Four experiments are presented. In 3 experiments, participants saw faces varying in expressions ranging from pure anger, through mixed expression, to pure happiness. Perceivers first categorized faces either on a control dimension, or an emotional dimension (angry/happy). Thus, the emotional categorization task made "pure" expressions fluent and "mixed" expressions disfluent. Next, participants made social evaluations. Results show that after emotional categorization, but not control categorization, targets with mixed expressions are relatively devalued. Further, this effect is mediated by categorization disfluency. Additional data from facial electromyography reveal that on a basic physiological level, affective devaluation of mixed expressions is driven by their objective ambiguity. The fourth experiment shows that the relative devaluation of mixed faces that vary in gender ambiguity requires a gender categorization task. Overall, these studies highlight that the impact of facial features on evaluation is qualified by their fluency, and that the fluency of features is a function of the current task. The discussion highlights the implications of these findings for research on emotional reactions to ambiguity. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
Michal Olszanowski
added a project goal
You walk down a busy street and scan the passing faces. Some you like, some you do not. Why? The general aim of the project is to describe the relationship between cognition, emotions and social judgments. It will be tested within everyday task – evaluation of human face. Introduced researches will test general hypothesis that easiness or difficulty in the categorization of facial emotional expression influences our basic social judgments, e.g. trustworthiness, liking etc. The main factor that impact this kind of judgments will be a “quality” of information processing. By the “quality” we may understand, that during any kind of processing, sometimes even before any specific features are extracted from the stimulus, the mental system has access to a nonspecific source of information -- the dynamics accompanying the processing of the stimulus. These non-specific aspects of processing are commonly described with use of a general term "fluency" (for reviews see Jacoby, Kelley, & Dywan, 1989; Schwarz & Clore, 1996). Unless there is an obvious external cause for feeling good or bad, affect can provide information about the current state of cognitive operations. Thus, high fluency of a perceptual or a conceptual process indicates progress toward, for example, successful recognition of the stimulus or a successful solution of a task. On the other hand, low fluency can be a signal of cognitive error or incompatibility, and play a motivational role in the revision of a processing strategy (Derryberry & Tucker, 1994).
Processing dynamics can also have affective consequences because it informs (probabilistically) whether an external stimulus is good or bad. For example, it’s known, at least since Titchener (1910), that familiar stimulus elicit a “warm glow.” Conversely, illusions of familiarity (oldness) can be produced through unobtrusive inductions of positive affect (Garcia-Marques & Mackie, 2000; Phaf & Rotteveel, 2005). One reason for this warmth-familiarity link could be biological predispositions for caution in encounters with a novel, and thus potentially harmful, stimuli Zajonc (1998). Other accounts suggest that familiarity is just a learned, “fast and frugal” heuristic for easily identifying choices that are in truth objectively better (Gigerenzer, 2007). Similarly, as we discuss next, dynamics could offer a probabilistic cue regarding other valued properties of external stimuli, such as symmetry, prototypicality, etc.
Most of the available evidence confirms that perceptual fluency impacts our fast and easy evaluations like “I like – I dislike” or “attractive-distractive”, however, none of them focused on so socially important feature as a human facial expression. Our everyday communication with other people largely relies on the face and facial display. Faces convey multiple types of information that are essential for inter-individual interactions. Among the many facial features, emotional expressions seem to play a central role, as they are crucial to infer the observed person’s state of mind, feelings and intentions (Plutchik, 1980; Fridlund, 1994; Ekman, 1997). Cross-cultural and psychological studies have shown that we can distinguish some categories of emotions as basic insofar as the facial displays related to these categories of emotion are similarly interpreted even among different cultures –(Ekman & Friesen, 1971). These emotions would correspond to fixed patterns of physiological activations and psychological states across individuals, and may typically occur as a response to the same kind of situations although there may be cultural variations in the extent to which they may be overtly displayed. Thus facial expressions of emotion such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, surprise, and disgust have universal form and meaning. The universality strongly implies that they may have been shaped and preserved by evolution and because of this they may have high processing fluency.
The project is devoted to analyzing affective and cognitive processing of facial expression as well as processes of social categorization and evaluation of the emotional expression in the context of clarity of displayed emotion. The general objective of the project will be to elucidate the relationship between the emotional display and social judgments. More precisely, the questions that we would like to answer are: Is there a direct relation between affective processing of faces and social judgments? How do the perceptual fluency impact emotion processing and the affective evaluation of faces?
We can assume that people judge other people according to emotional display, and the clarity of that display is an important source of information. The general hypotheses we will try to test within the introduced project is that:
- A Clear emotional expression has high processing fluency (which suggests that its recognition involves mainly a bottom-up process, being influenced mostly by early visual processing) which may cause generally positive affective feedback used as a cue during subsequent cognitive processes (Winkielman, Halberstadt, Fazendeiro & Catty 2006).
- By contrast, ambiguous or mixed emotion facial displays have low processing fluency (implying top-down processing, strongly influenced by more elaborate categorization) and as a return induce negative affective feedback, which causes more negative evaluation overall.
- Additionally, we can expect that difficulty in the categorization of ambiguous expression will cause deeper analysis of facial stimuli (involvement of attentional resources and improved facial memory) and need of additional information (more interest on displayer properties).
 
Michal Olszanowski
added a research item
Batty, M., & Taylor, M. J. (2003). Early processing of the six basic facial emotional expressions. Cognitive Brain Research, 17(3), 613-620. Vuilleumier, P., & Pourtois, G. (2007). Distributed and interactive brain mechanisms during emotion face perception: evidence from functional neuroimaging. Neuropsychologia, 45(1), 174-194. Winkielman, P., Olszanowski, M., & Gola. M. (2015). Faces in between: Evaluative responses to faces reflect the interplay of features and task-dependent fluency. Emotion, 15, 232-242