Categorical perception of facial expressions

Cognition. 1992 Sep;44(3):227-40. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(92)90002-y.


People universally recognize facial expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and perhaps, surprise, suggesting a perceptual mechanism tuned to the facial configuration displaying each emotion. Sets of drawings were generated by computer, each consisting of a series of faces differing by constant physical amounts, running from one emotional expression to another (or from one emotional expression to a neutral face). Subjects discriminated pairs of faces, then, in a separate task, categorized the emotion displayed by each. Faces within a category were discriminated more poorly than faces in different categories that differed by an equal physical amount. Thus emotional expressions, like colors and speech sounds, are perceived categorically, not as a direct reflection of their continuous physical properties.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Perception*