Suggested Citation

Scherer, K. R., Mortillaro, M., Dieckmann, A., Unfried M., & Ellgring, H. (2021). Investigating appraisal-driven facial expression and inference in emotion communication. Emotion, 21(1), 73-95.



Prof. Dr. Klaus Scherer,
Prof. Dr. Anja Dieckmann,
Dr. Matthias Unfried,
Prof. Dr. Heiner Ellgring,
Dr. Marcello Mortillaro
Publication title
Investigating appraisal-driven facial expression and inference in emotion communication

Investigating appraisal-driven facial expression and inference in emotion communication


Theory and research on the expression of emotion, both on production and recognition, has been dominated by a categorical emotion approach suggesting that discrete emotions are elicited and expressed via prototypical facial muscle configurations that can then be recognized by observers, presumably via template matching. This tradition is increasingly challenged by alternative theoretical approaches. In particular, appraisal theorists have suggested that specific elements of facial expressions are directly produced by the result of certain appraisals and have made detailed predictions about the facial patterns to be expected for these appraisal configurations. This approach has been extended to emotion perception, with theorists claiming that observers first infer individual appraisals and only then make categorical emotion judgments from the estimated appraisal patterns, using semantic inference rules. Here, we report two studies that empirically examine the two central hypotheses proposed by this theoretical position: (a) that specific appraisals produce predicted patterns of facial muscle expressions and (b) that observers can infer a person’s appraisals of ongoing events from the predicted facial expression configurations. The results show that (a) professional actors use many of the predicted facial action unit patterns to enact, in a realistic scenario setting, appraisal outcomes specified by experimental design, and (b) observers systematically infer specific appraisals from ecologically valid video recordings of marketing research participants as they view TV commercials (selected according to the likelihood of eliciting specific appraisals). The patterns of facial action units identified in these studies correspond largely to prior predictions and encourage further research on appraisal-driven expression and inference.



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