Do emotions result in their predicted facial expressions? A meta-analysis of studies on the co-occurrence of expression and emotion

Emotion. 2021 Oct;21(7):1550-1569. doi: 10.1037/emo0001015. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


That basic emotions produce a facial signal would-if true-provide a foundation for a science of emotion. Here, random-effects meta-analyses tested whether happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, and surprise each co-occurs with its predicted facial signal. The first meta-analysis examined only those studies that measured full expressions through Facial Actions Coding System (FACS). Average co-occurrence effect size was .13. The second meta-analysis included both full and partial expressions, as measured by FACS or another system. Average co-occurrence effect size rose to .23. A third meta-analysis estimated the Pearson correlation between intensity of the reported emotion and intensity of the predicted facial expression. Average correlation was .30. Overall, co-occurrence and correlation were greatest for disgust, least for surprise. What are commonly known as the six classic basic emotions do not reliably co-occur with their predicted facial signal. Heterogeneity between samples was found, suggesting a more complex account of facial expressions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Disgust*
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Humans