Language Supports Perceptual Symbols for Emotion Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
  • Doyle, Cameron
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • The present studies test the hypothesis that language shapes emotion perception by reactivating sensorimotor aspects of prior experiences to shape the perception of others’ facial actions. In Study 1, I show that language guides the acquisition of new exemplars of emotional facial actions (“perceptual symbols”) that then bias subsequent perceptions of similar emotional facial actions. In a learning phase, participants viewed non-stereotypical instances of anger and fear, and categorized them using the words “anger” and “fear” (verbal condition) or made a perceptual judgment that did not require emotion words (control condition). Next, in a target phase, participants studied slightly different facial actions and categorized them using the words previously linked with the learned perceptual symbols. Finally, during a test phase, participants identified which face the individual had been making during the target phase (i.e., the learned face, the target face, or a morphed combination). As predicted, participants were more likely to choose the face that had been linked with a word during the learning phase than the face actually studied in the target phase, suggesting that perceptual symbols acquired during prior experiences can bias later perceptions of emotion. Study 2 replicated and extended Study 1 to show that even nonsense labels can guide the acquisition of perceptual symbols for never-before-seen facial actions. These findings demonstrate that language is doing the “heavy-lifting” during emotion perception by helping participants first acquire perceptual symbols for emotion, and then access them during subsequent perceptions to make meaning of facial actions as instances of emotion. Implications for emotion theory and applications to special populations are discussed.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Gordon, Peter
  • Lindquist, Kristen
  • Payne, B. Keith
  • Master of Arts
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

This work has no parents.