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The fear gasping face as a threat display in a Melanesian society

Crivelli, C; Russell, JA; Jarillo, S; Fernandez-Dols, JM

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
2016
VL / 113 - BP / 12403 - EP / 12407
abstract
Theory and research show that humans attribute both emotions and intentions to others on the basis of facial behavior: A gasping face can be seen as showing "fear" and intent to submit. The assumption that such interpretations are pancultural derives largely from Western societies. Here, we report two studies conducted in an indigenous, small-scale Melanesian society with considerable cultural and visual isolation from the West: the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Our multidisciplinary research team spoke the vernacular and had extensive prior fieldwork experience. In study 1, Trobriand adolescents were asked to attribute emotions, social motives, or both to a set of facial displays. Trobrianders showed a mixed and variable attribution pattern, although with much lower agreement than studies of Western samples. Remarkably, the gasping face (traditionally considered a display of fear and submission in the West) was consistently matched to two unpredicted categories: anger and threat. In study 2, adolescents were asked to select the face that was threatening; Trobrianders chose the "fear" gasping face whereas Spaniards chose an "angry" scowling face. Our findings, consistent with functional approaches to animal communication and observations made on threat displays in small-scale societies, challenge the Western assumption that "fear" gasping faces uniformly express fear or signal submission across cultures.

AccesS level

Green Published, Bronze

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Psychiatry/Psychology
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PROYECTO FINANCIADO POR PLAN NACIONAL DE INVESTIGACIÓN AGENCIA ESTATAL DE INVESTIGACIÓN, MINISTERIO DE CIENCIA E INNOVACIÓN. PID2019-109127RB-I00