Ekman, P., et al. (1987). Universals and Cultural Differences in the Judgments of Facial Expressions of Emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(4), 712-717.

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In this study, Ekman and colleagues from all over the world addressed some of the methodological concerns brought forth by those who did not accept unversality in the display of facial expressions (mostly anthropologists). Most notably, they argued that previous research had yet to show universality in processing secondary expressions (i.e., blends). Ekman and colleagues sought to circumvent this by having participants in 10 different countries rate expressions on the basis of seven expression types (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surpise, contempt). Through the first viewing of photographs, participants chose the predominantly expressed emotion. Results showed that there was high agreement across cultures supporting universality. To further demonstrate this phenomenon, a second rating was performed where the faces were rated in intensity for each of the seven expression types. Results demonstrated universality in not only choice of the primary expression, but even the second most expressed emotion in each face, effectively finding cross-cultural agreement in emotion blends. There was a lack of universality found with the overall intensity ratings. The authors posited that this may be due to other-culture effects, however, this study lacked sufficient evidence to support this.

This represents a classical reading in social psychology because it answered many critics of univerality, providing significant evidence that such a phenomenon exists. The universal affect system that Ekman has provided evidence for has been the basis on a plethora of research and has advanced the examination of emotions

Further readings:

Ekman, P., & Friesen, W.V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17, 124-129.

Matsumoto, D. (1993). Ethnic differences in affect intensity, emotion judgments, display rule attitudes, and self-reported emotional expression in an American sample. Motivation and Emotion, 17, 107-123.

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