Imagine that you walk into your kitchen, and a family member is frowning slightly. How do you decide what they are feeling? What would happen if you thought they were OK when they were really very angry? Or if you thought that they were angry when they weren’t?
In this study, we want to find out how people make decisions about others’ emotions. Children and adults play a computer game where they try to earn points by telling us whether a face on the screen is expressive (e.g., happy, fearful) or not expressive. If they answer correctly, they earn points, but if they answer incorrectly, they lose points. Some of the pictures are easy to judge: they’re very expressive or not expressive at all. To make the game a little harder, some faces are in between these two extremes. In order to learn how to group these “in-between” faces, people playing the game must guess and then see if they got it right! Based on this feedback, they can learn how to respond the next time they see the same face.
We predict that people will learn to group the faces by noticing when they gain or lose points based on their guesses. In daily life, we get similar “feedback” by noticing and responding to others’ behavior.
This study will help us understand how children and adults learn to judge others’ emotions, and may one day help to treat people with emotional and social disorders.
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This research is conducted by the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab at Northeastern University