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The purpose of this report is to highlight the discrepancies between the actual finding between the actual report, Angry, Disgusted, or Afraid? : Studies on the Malleability of Emotion Perception and a media report intended to relay the findings to the general public. The report was conducted to test current theories of emotional perception through facial expression. The report showed that there were varying dimensions of the context within which facial expression was interpreted to express different emotions. However, a press release in The Mail largely ignored the aspect of context bearing on the interpretation of the said facial expression, among other misinterpretations. Therefore the press release misleads the public by misrepresenting actual facts from the report.
The gross misrepresentation
Facial expressions do communicate different emotions, and this depends on the context in which they are taken. As such facial expressions differ in the way, they are similar to each other. A good example is a way in which anger and disgust bear closer similarities to each other than to the emotion of fear. As such, people may perceive disgusted and angry faces as portraying similar emotions when the two emotions are put together. But when either of these faces is compared to a face portraying fear, the level of similarity decreases.
As such, the context in which these faces are interpreted plays a role in determining the viewer’s perception ( Aviezer, Hassin, Ryan, Grady, Susskind, Anderson, Moscovitch, and Bentin, 2008). While these facts are clearly stated in the research, a media release portrayed gross misinterpretations of fact. An article in The Mail casually stated, without giving relevant evidence from the survey findings, that anger and disgust are actually the two faces of the same emotion. This implied that anger and disgust are one and the emotion.
Aviezer et al. (2008) explain the method of their study as involving contestants who were exposed to faces portraying different emotions on a computer monitor one at a time. The contestants were required to make judgments as to which of the emotions each of the faces portrayed by pressing a button under the relevant emotional description. The contestants were also given the freedom of time to make a conclusive judgment.
The article from the mail makes an attempt to sound scientific by citing the scientific methodology used. However, it misrepresents facts as it only states that the participants looked at one face that portrayed disgust for only a few seconds. This is a problematic misrepresentation of facts as it only, and wrongly said, that the participants were only exposed to only one facial expression. To be more accurate, the press release would have otherwise stated that participants were exposed to images that portrayed varying emotional states over a period of time.
The press release further stipulates that Aviezer and his colleagues found out that in some instances, disgust can be confused with pride. While Aviezer et al. (2008) show the relations between pride and disgust, they by no means imply that the two emotions can be confused. The study reveals that when the faces portraying disgust were explored Vis a Vis context of pride, the participants interpreted them as more positive that the disgust face has taken Vis a Vis the disgusting context. The press release misleads the readers into believing that pride and disgust are the similar emotions by casually indicating pride and disgust can be mistaken as similar emotions, instead of highlighting the fact that pride influences the way in which context influences perception.
The press release exaggerates the influence of focusing on particular regions of the face, such as the eyes and the mouth, and explains that when others encounter angry people, they focus their attention on their eyes and while encountering people in disgusts they focus on their mouths only. This is in gross contrast to what Aviezer et al. (2008) explain. The press release should have instead explained that the study focuses on faces and not necessarily people and also indicates that there is a variance in the perception depending on the context in which the faces are interpreted. This implies that the study was used real people as specimens, which is inaccurate.
Aviezer et al. (2008) explain that facial expression and body language are incongruent but that the context in which body language is used in relation to the facial interpreting facial expression impedes the perception of particular emotion expressed by that particular face. The press release misrepresents this fact by explaining that whether a particular facial expression was viewed separately or alongside body language, there was no difference in interpretation. However, the press release would have stated that “contributed to the manifestation of a specific emotional Context” (Aviezer et al. (2008). The press release thus misleads the reader to believe that body language has no bearing on the context in which the facial expression was viewed.
By comparing the press release and the actual article, it is notable that there exist notable misinterpretations and misrepresentation of facts. What is dangerous is that the press release has a wider readership in public, and thus the public digest wrong information. This underlines the fact that there needs to be a procedure that determines the way in which scientific findings are released to the public through popular media.
Aviezer,H., Hassin, R., Ryan, J., Grady, C., Susskind, J., Anderson, A., Moscovitch, M. and Bentin, S. (2008). Angry, disgusted, or afraid?: Studies on the malleability of emotion perception Psychological Science 2008 19: 724.