Le risate sono riconosciute allo stesso modo nelle diverse culture? E se è così, possiamo dire se le persone di culture diverse stanno fingendo le loro risate?
Questo è esattamente ciò a cui un team di ricercatori ha tentato di rispondere in una recente pubblicazione su Psychological Science. Un gruppo incredibilmente numeroso di 31 ricercatori ha cercato di analizzare le reazioni alle risate in 21 società in sei regioni del mondo. Poiché la risata è praticata in qualche forma in tutte le culture, hanno cercato di capire se valgono anche universalmente alcuni sottili indizi che possono rivelare una risata reale o finta.
Fondamentalmente, hanno esplorato cosa significasse tale universalità nei primi usi evolutivi della risata, che vengono considerati fondamentalmente un segnale di affiliazione o un desiderio di cooperare. Gli osservatori dovrebbero essere in grado di notare se la risata è un vero segnale di affiliazione o se è falsa. Questa è la distinzione tra risate spontanee genuine e risate volontarie non genuine.
Questo non vuol dire che le risate volontarie debbano essere ingannevoli. Invece, le risate volontarie possono essere utilizzate per trasmettere il riconoscimento di una necessità di cooperazione o altri segnali sociali. Gli autori dello studio suggeriscono che questo è in realtà l’uso più comune di risate volontarie o non genuine.
Se la risata ha questa profonda base evolutiva, allora non dovrebbe importare da quale cultura provenga qualcuno per poter fare una distinzione. Le ricerche passate hanno scoperto che le risate spontanee e volontarie sono sostanzialmente diverse, dopo tutto.
Per testare quest’ipotesi, i ricercatori hanno chiesto a persone di diverse parti del mondo come Los Angeles, Europa centrale, Iran, India e Giappone di partecipare allo studio, per un totale di 884 partecipanti. Questi partecipanti sono stati poi esposti a registrazioni audio che contenevano risate spontanee o volontarie e gli è stato chiesto di identificarle come false o genuine.
Nel complesso, le persone possono effettuare la distinzione in modo affidabile, notando cambiamenti di intensità o di un tono più alto nella risata. Tutto ciò suggerisce che gli ascoltatori captano una sottile variazione emotiva nelle risate. Mentre una ricerca passata ha scoperto che le persone sono brave in questo nella loro cultura, questa scoperta è certamente un’espansione importante per tale studio.
C’è molto da imparare da questo studio in termini di come leggere meglio le persone e scoprire l’inganno. E’ piuttosto sorprendente come le persone siano in grado di notare se la risata è falsa o meno. Come abbiamo notato, il rilevamento dell’inganno si basa strettamente sul confronto tra il comportamento agito dalle persone e la loro baseline (comportamento di base) già conosciuta. La familiarità che solitamente assiste nel rilevamento della menzogna è completamente assente nell’analisi di queste clip audio.
Detto questo, ciò è in linea con la ricerca precedente secondo cui le persone possono classificare le voci parlate in modo accurato in base alla loro intuizione che l’oratore possa mentire.
La cosa più importante, forse, è il modo in cui questo studio aiuta a legare le risate a un senso di espressione emotiva universale. Mentre la gioia è un’emozione di base universale, la risata non deve essere necessariamente sinonimo di gioia. Tuttavia, questa ricerca ci aiuta mostrandoci che le risate, come i gesti di trionfo, possono essere un’espressione universale.
Think you know everything about microexpressions? Take a look at our list of common microexpression misconceptions:
1) Seeing a microexpression automatically means that a person is lying
Microexpressions occur when people are trying to conceal their emotions, most often in high stakes situations. When you see a microexpression, don’t automatically assume that the person who gave off the micro is lying. The first thing you need to do is establish a baseline: ask yourself what the person’s normal behavior is.
If you indeed notice a hot spot (where their verbal actions contradicts their nonverbal actions), you need to stop and ask more questions. Don’t automatically assume that what they are saying is a lie.
2) Microexpressions include the following:
• Rate that the person is blinking • The direction their eyes are moving • Restlessness • Heavy breathing
All of the above actions are great examples of nonverbal behavior which may be indicative that someone is lying, but are not microexpressions. While microexpressions are one type of nonverbal behavior that occurs on the face, they do not involve how frequently a person blinks or how heavy their breathing is.
Microexpressions commonly represent the seven basic emotions: happiness, fear, sadness, anger, contempt, disgust and surprise. They occur as fast as 1/25 of a second and are classified by the speed at which the expression occurs on a person’s face.
These “truth wizards” that were discovered by Maureen O’Sullivan during her Wizards Project were a select group of people that were particularly good at detecting deception. You don’t have to be a wizard to see microexpressions. Anyone can learn to see microexpressions, especially if they get the proper training.
4) Microexpressions were discovered recently
Despite the show Lie to Me that aired on FOX, microexpressions were first discovered by Haggard and Isaacs over 40 years ago. They published a report on these expressions, which they called “micromomentary” expressions in 1966. The article they wrote was entitled Micro-momentary facial expressions as indicators of ego mechanisms in psychotherapy. Many subsequent studies have been conducted based on the research by Haggard and Isaacs, but the discovery of microexpressions should be attributed to them.
The conclusions of this article are highly flawed for many reasons and below he outlines a few of them.
1. The fact of the matter is that a close inspection of the findings indicates that the raw data in the study supports the universal recognition of emotion (i.e., significantly higher rates of agreement than chance for each and every emotion, for both ethnic groups). That this is the empirical criterion that could and should be used as a basis to draw conclusions about universality has been discussed and debated years ago (Ekman, 1994; Ekman, O’Sullivan, & Matsumoto, 1991a, 1991b).
2. The cultural difference is in absolute levels of agreement rates are not a novel finding. Indeed, I have published exactly the same findings 20 years ago and since (Biehl et al., 1997; Matsumoto, 1989, 1992; Matsumoto & Ekman, 1989).
3. As argued then, cultural differences in absolute agreement rates cannot and do not argue against universality. Universality in expression recognition is demonstrated by the fact that observers in all cultures studied agreed on what emotion is portrayed at above chance levels. This is exactly what they found, replicating the same findings for years. Cultural differences in the absolute levels of that agreement can occur for many reasons, including cultural rules about how to decode universal facial expressions. And it has been well known in the field for years that universality and culture-specific in emotion recognition coexist (Mesquita & Frijda, 1992). Arguing for their mutual exclusivity is a strategy long since abandoned by those who know the literature well.
4. Moreover, the confusions these authors report – that disgust was confused with anger, and fear with surprise – are confusions that occur all around the world. They are not specific to East Asian cultures, and are a published finding from over 20 years ago (Ekman et al., 1987; Matsumoto & Ekman, 1989). That they occur in all judge cultures tested to date says something more about those emotions than they do about cultural differences.
5. A close reading of the authors’ own findings indicates that their findings concerning the eye tracking do not justify their conclusions. They reported a significant culture by face region interaction on the eye data, but an absence of a significant culture by face region by emotion interaction. That means that the eye tracking differences between the two cultures were not specific to emotion. If that’s the case, the eye tracking differences could not possibly account for the judgment differences on two emotions only, because the eye tracking differences that occurred did so for all emotions. This is a basic flaw in their interpretation of possible mediating variables (Baron & Kenny, 1986).
6. Moreover, the East Asian – US American differences in scanning procedures of scenes, objects, and faces is a well established finding for years and is not novel. The differences in eye contact show a typical Asian response, that is, focusing in the eyes/nose bridge area rather than the whole face. The person identification literature has shown for years that Caucasians differ from African Americans and Asian Americans in terms of how much time they spend looking at different parts of the face to see if they recognize someone (Caucasians more of the face including hairline and hair; Africans and Asians in that eyes-nose bridge area). Thus what the authors report in this article is not specific to viewing facial expressions of emotion (and as mentioned above, cannot thus explain emotion specific differences in judgments).
7. The sample size for the East Asian sample was 13 (12 Chinese, 1 Japanese). Such a small number could not possibly tell us anything vis-à-vis the overwhelming evidence for universality in the production of facial expressions of emotion, including over 74 studies published in peer reviewed journals conducted by multiple investigators in multiple countries (Matsumoto, Keltner, Shiota, Frank, & O’Sullivan, 2008); studies of congenitally blind individuals (Matsumoto & Willingham, 2009; Peleg et al., 2006); studies demonstrating linkage between facial expressions of emotion and physiological responses across cultures (Ekman, Levenson, & Friesen, 1983; Levenson, Ekman, & Friesen, 1990; Levenson, Ekman, Heider, & Friesen, 1992); and studies of nonhuman primates (Bard, 2003; de Waal, 2003). There is also well over 100 studies documenting the universality in recognition of facial expressions (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002; Matsumoto, 2001).
8. Finally, the East Asian subjects in their study were actually immigrants in the United Kingdom, and it is not known what kind of self-selection, language proficiency, or acculturation biases may have been exerted in the data.
There is nothing wrong with the data presented in the article in question, but the conclusions drawn from the data are entirely incorrect and not empirically justified. In my opinion, the conclusions border on sensationalism in relation to a very modest study.
I was aided in the preparation of this commentary by my colleagues Dr. Mark Frank and Dr. Jeff LeRoux
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