Studies of emotion recognition from multiple communication channels
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Crucial to human interaction and development, emotions have long fascinated psychologists. Current thinking suggests that specific emotions, regardless of the channel in which they are communicated, are processed by separable neural mechanisms. Yet much research has focused only on the interpretation of facial expressions of emotion. The present research addressed this oversight by exploring recognition of emotion from facial, vocal, and gestural tasks. Happiness and disgust were best conveyed by the face, yet other emotions were equally well communicated by voices and gestures. A novel method for exploring emotion perception, by contrasting errors, is proposed. Studies often fail to consider whether the status of the perceiver affects emotion recognition abilities. Experiments presented here revealed an impact of mood, sex, and age of participants. Dysphoric mood was associated with difficulty in interpreting disgust from vocal and gestural channels. To some extent, this supports the concept that neural regions are specialised for the perception of disgust. Older participants showed decreased emotion recognition accuracy but no specific pattern of recognition difficulty. Sex of participant and of actor affected emotion recognition from voices. In order to examine neural mechanisms underlying emotion recognition, an exploration was undertaken using emotion tasks with Parkinson's patients. Patients showed no clear pattern of recognition impairment across channels of communication. In this study, the exclusion of surprise as a stimulus and response option in a facial emotion recognition task yielded results contrary to those achieved without this modification. Implications for this are discussed. Finally, this thesis gives rise to three caveats for neuropsychological research. First, the impact of the observers' status, in terms of mood, age, and sex, should not be neglected. Second, exploring multiple channels of communication is important for understanding emotion perception. Third, task design should be appraised before conclusions regarding impairments in emotion perception are presumed.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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