The shared signal hypothesis: Facial and bodily expressions of emotion mutually inform one another


Decades of research show that contextual information from the body, visual scene, and voices can facilitate judgments of facial expressions of emotion. To date, most research suggests that bodily expressions of emotion offer context for interpreting facial expressions, but not vice versa. The present research aimed to investigate the conditions under which mutual processing of facial and bodily displays of emotion facilitate and/or interfere with emotion recognition. In the current two studies, we examined whether body and face emotion recognition are enhanced through integration of shared emotion cues, and/or hindered through mixed signals (i.e., interference). We tested whether faces and bodies facilitate or interfere with emotion processing by pairing briefly presented (33 ms), backward-masked presentations of faces with supraliminally presented bodies (Experiment 1) and vice versa (Experiment 2). Both studies revealed strong support for integration effects, but not interference. Integration effects are most pronounced for low-emotional clarity facial and bodily expressions, suggesting that when more information is needed in one channel, the other channel is recruited to disentangle any ambiguity. That this occurs for briefly presented, backward-masked presentations reveals low-level visual integration of shared emotional signal value.

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics