Facial expression megamix: tests of dimensional and category accounts of emotional recognition

AW Young, D Rowland, AJ Calder, NL Etcoff, A Seth, David Ian Perrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

417 Citations (Scopus)


We report four experiments investigating the perception of photographic quality continua of interpolated ('morphed') facial expressions derived from prototypes of the 6 emotions in the Ekman and Friesen (1976) series (happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger). In Experiment 1, morphed images made from all possible pairwise combinations of expressions were presented in random order; subjects identified these as belonging to distinct expression categories corresponding to the prototypes at each end of the relevant continuum, This result was replicated in Experiment 2, which also included morphs made from a prototype with a neutral expression, and allowed 'neutral' as a response category. These findings are inconsistent with the view that facial expressions are recognised by locating them along two underlying dimensions, since such a View predicts that at least some transitions between categories should involve neutral regions or,identification as a different emotion. Instead, they suggest that facial expressions of basic emotions are recognised by their fit to discrete categories. Experiment 3 used continua involving 6 emotions to demonstrate best discrimination of pairs of stimuli falling across category boundaries; this provides further evidence of categorical perception of facial expressions of emotion. However, in both Experiment 1 and Experiment 2, reaction time data showed that increasing distance from the prototype had a definite cost on ability to identify emotion in the resulting morphed face. Moreover, Experiment 4 showed that subjects had some insight into which emotions were blended to create specific morphed images. Hence, categorical perception effects were found even though subjects were sensitive to physical properties of these morphed facial expressions. We suggest that rapid classification of prototypes and better across boundary discriminability reflect the underlying organisation of human categorisation abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-313
Number of pages43
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1997




Dive into the research topics of 'Facial expression megamix: tests of dimensional and category accounts of emotional recognition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this