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Toward a Dialect Theory: Cultural Differences in the Expression and Recognition of Posed Facial Expressions

Two studies provided direct support for a recently proposed dialect theory of communicating emotion, positing that expressive displays show cultural variations similar to linguistic dialects, thereby decreasing accurate recognition by out-group members. In Study 1, 60 participants from Quebec and Gabon posed facial expressions. Dialects, in the form of activating different muscles for the same expressions, emerged most clearly for serenity, shame, and contempt and also for anger, sadness, surprise, and happiness, but not for fear, disgust, or embarrassment. In Study 2, Quebecois and Gabonese participants judged these stimuli and stimuli standardized to erase cultural dialects. As predicted, an in-group advantage emerged for nonstandardized expressions only and most strongly for expressions with greater regional dialects, according to Study 1.