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Does Language Influence The Way We Actually Perceive Facial Expressions, Not Just The Way We Remember Them?

An essay / piece of research looking at how language can have an effect on the way we view or percieve a persons face as well as how we remeber them.

Abstract

This study was a follow up to Robersons & Davidoff (2000), looking at the effect of language on the perception of facial expressions. An opportunity sample of 74 students at Aston University were used. The experiment was conducted in 2 parts during a lecture, to begin participants were shown 12 slides each with groups of 3 different emotional faces (Ekman 1992[1]) morphed to be equally spaced from each other but with 2 from one category and one from another. They were then asked to mark down the odd one out. Part 2 of the experiment was conducted in the same way with another 12 slides, however this time participants were given a verbal interference task consisting of a 7 digit number. My hypothesis was that participants would give more categorical then non categorical responses, but this effect would be reduced with the addition of verbal interference.

This was correct and verbal interference did appear to lower the number of categorical responses, however it was only by a small amount. Despite this is can be concluded that language does influence our perception of facial expressions.

Introduction

 

There has been much research into the influence of language on perception; one early theory the linguistic relativity hypothesis by Whorf (1940) suggested that our language has a large influence on thought and perception in every area of life. With language having such a profound effect on our perception a large amount research has been put into the area, much of this has been investigating the link between language and the perception of colour categories. One such piece of evidence comes from Özgen (2004) who looked at many different pieces of research examining the effect of language on perception. He concluded that our perception is indeed influenced by language and that it may even be possible that how you perceive a rainbow is dependent on what language you speak. However it is not only our perception of colour that can be influenced, another example used is different emotional faces. This (along with a colour perception experiment) was conducted by Roberson & Davidoff (2000) who used a triad of continuous emotional faces in their experiments on categorical perception and the effect of verbal interference, they found that the use of verbal interference significantly reduces the benefit of cross-category comparisons, they concluded that verbal coding was indeed used in categorical perception. However there were certain limitations to this study, to begin with they have been criticised for having conducted an investigation on memory rather than actual perception. This is due to the way in which the experiment was carried out, participant would view the stimulus (face or colour) with no interference at all (therefore perception was not altered), the verbal interference would come between perception and forced recall of the stimulus. Again the fact that participants have to recall the stimulus after a delay also suggests that memory as well as perception may be playing a role in the findings. I will be conducting a follow up study to Robertson and Davidoff (2000) and addressing these issues by using an odd one out task as oppose to a recall task. In this way my study will only examine the effect of verbal interference on perception not memory. My study will also differ in that I will be looking in more depth at the facial expressions stimulus and not including colours.

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