Shock and Fear: Cartoonish Expressions Appear Universal In Human Beings


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Apes, chimpanzees, and humans show similar facial expressions: Photo by Pierre Fidenci

Cartoons and Emotional Cues… Continued

Emotions and Responses: Cultural Surprises

The use of cartoon faces showing expressions was the basis for the studies of cultures around the world. In each instance, the culture was able to easily identify the emotions rapidly and accurately.

Dr. Shariff also shared the most surprising aspect of the research, from his perspective,

From our work on the implicit social signals sent by the pride expression, the fact that we found nearly identical patterns of responses from remote Fijian villagers, who had no access to Western media, was quite something.

From all the work done on this stuff, I’m particularly impressed with the work coming out of Adam Anderson’s lab-where they are showing these very clear and relevant functional benefits from emotion expressions, like the disgust expression measurably reducing air intake, and the fear expression measurably increasing peripheral vision acuity and eye speed.

On the whole, though, what I find most interesting is how the individual pieces of the puzzle, from Darwin’s first bold suggestions to Ekman’s groundbreaking work on the universality of the expressions, to all this modern ‘third-chapter’ research, are all coming together to really make sense of why we have these ubiquitous features of social interaction-and why they look the way they do.

If the theory we’ve presented continues to be supported by emerging evidence, then we will have understood another little piece of the big story of human nature.

As we continue to understand our emotions and how they relate to our evolution, we are able to turn back the clock and learn more about ourselves. Science continues to present new evidence in emotion research, with each new study adding a thread to the rich tapestry that is the history of human civilization.


Shariff, A. & Tracy, J. (2011). What Are Emotions For? Current Directions in Psychological Science. (December 2011). Accessed December 31, 2011.

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