Recent theoretical accounts argue that conceptual knowledge dynamically interacts with processing of facial cues, fundamentally influencing visual perception of social and emotion categories. Evidence is accumulating for the idea that a perceiver’s conceptual knowledge about emotion is involved in emotion perception, even when stereotypic facial expressions are presented in isolation1–4. However, existing methods have not allowed a comprehensive assessment of the relationship between conceptual knowledge and emotion perception across individuals and emotion categories. Here we use a representational similarity analysis approach to show that conceptual knowledge predicts the representational structure of facial emotion perception. We conducted three studies using computer mouse-tracking5 and reverse-correlation6 paradigms. Overall, we found that when individuals believed two emotions to be conceptually more similar, faces from those categories were perceived with a corresponding similarity, even when controlling for any physical similarity in the stimuli themselves. When emotions were rated conceptually more similar, computer-mouse trajectories during emotion perception exhibited a greater simultaneous attraction to both category responses (despite only one emotion being depicted; studies 1 and 2), and reverse-correlated face prototypes exhibited a greater visual resemblance (study 3). Together, our findings suggest that differences in conceptual knowledge are reflected in the perceptual processing of facial emotion.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience