When familiarity breeds accuracy: cultural exposure and facial emotion recognition

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Aug;85(2):276-90. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.276.


Two studies provide evidence for the role of cultural familiarity in recognizing facial expressions of emotion. For Chinese located in China and the United States, Chinese Americans, and non-Asian Americans, accuracy and speed in judging Chinese and American emotions was greater with greater participant exposure to the group posing the expressions. Likewise, Tibetans residing in China and Africans residing in the United States were faster and more accurate when judging emotions expressed by host versus nonhost society members. These effects extended across generations of Chinese Americans, seemingly independent of ethnic or biological ties. Results suggest that the universal affect system governing emotional expression may be characterized by subtle differences in style across cultures, which become more familiar with greater cultural contact.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Africa / ethnology
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Asian Americans / psychology
  • China / ethnology
  • Confusion / ethnology
  • Confusion / psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Tibet / ethnology
  • United States