Date Published: February 23, 2018
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): B. Nicole Reyes, Shira C. Segal, Margaret C. Moulson, Ethan Moitra.
Emotion recognition is important for social interaction and communication, yet previous research has identified a cross-cultural emotion recognition deficit: Recognition is less accurate for emotions expressed by individuals from a cultural group different than one’s own. The current study examined whether social categorization based on race, in the absence of cultural differences, influences emotion recognition in a diverse context. South Asian and White Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area completed an emotion recognition task that required them to identify the seven basic emotional expressions when posed by members of the same two groups, allowing us to tease apart the contributions of culture and social group membership. Contrary to our hypothesis, there was no mutual in-group advantage in emotion recognition: Participants were not more accurate at recognizing emotions posed by their respective racial in-groups. Both groups were more accurate at recognizing expressions when posed by South Asian faces, and White participants were more accurate overall compared to South Asian participants. These results suggest that in a diverse environment, categorization based on race alone does not lead to the creation of social out-groups in a way that negatively impacts emotion recognition.
The expression and recognition of emotions are crucial elements for social interaction. Emotion recognition has adaptive functions, with many studies reporting correlations with constructs related to adjustment, including social anxiety, academic achievement, emotional disturbance, depression, and general social competence [1–5]. Adults are generally excellent at recognizing emotions from facial expressions. However, this expertise does not apply equally to all facial expressions; there is a well-documented cross-cultural emotion recognition deficit whereby adults are less accurate at recognizing emotions expressed by individuals from different cultural backgrounds than their own (e.g., [6–12]). This has the potential to cause miscommunications, and it may be most problematic in ethnically and culturally diverse large urban centres, where individuals from different cultural backgrounds are likely to interact with each other on a daily basis.
The goal of this study was to investigate whether social categorization based on race influenced emotion recognition when culture was held constant. South Asian and White Canadians completed an emotion recognition task with stimuli from the same two groups. The major finding that emerged from this study was that, contrary to our hypothesis, there was no evidence of an in-group advantage in emotion recognition accuracy; participants did not show better recognition accuracy for own-race than other-race faces. We did find main effects of encoder group and decoder group: Overall, performance was better on South Asian faces than on White faces, and White participants were more accurate than South Asian participants. The pattern of errors revealed an effect of decoder group, as well: White participants were more likely to attribute anger and sadness to emotional faces, whereas South Asian participants were more likely to attribute surprise. As predicted, participants were most accurate at recognizing happy faces and least accurate at recognizing fearful faces.