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Emotion perception from dynamic and static body expressions in point-light and full-light displays.

Atkinson, A. P. and Dittrich, W. H. and Gemmell, A. J. and Young, A. W. (2004) 'Emotion perception from dynamic and static body expressions in point-light and full-light displays.', Perception., 33 (6). pp. 717-746.


Research on emotion recognition has been dominated by studies of photographs of facial expressions. A full understanding of emotion perception and its neural substrate will require investigations that employ dynamic displays and means of expression other than the face. Our aims were: (i) to develop a set of dynamic and static whole-body expressions of basic emotions for systematic investigations of clinical populations, and for use in functional-imaging studies; (ii) to assess forced-choice emotion-classification performance with these stimuli relative to the results of previous studies; and (iii) to test the hypotheses that more exaggerated whole-body movements would produce (a) more accurate emotion classification and (b) higher ratings of emotional intensity. Ten actors portrayed 5 emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness) at 3 levels of exaggeration, with their faces covered. Two identical sets of 150 emotion portrayals (full-light and point-light) were created from the same digital footage, along with corresponding static images of the 'peak' of each emotion portrayal. Recognition tasks confirmed previous findings that basic emotions are readily identifiable from body movements, even when static form information is minimised by use of point-light displays, and that full-light and even point-light displays can convey identifiable emotions, though rather less efficiently than dynamic displays. Recognition success differed for individual emotions, corroborating earlier results about the importance of distinguishing differences in movement characteristics for different emotional expressions. The patterns of misclassifications were in keeping with earlier findings on emotional clustering. Exaggeration of body movement (a) enhanced recognition accuracy, especially for the dynamic point-light displays, but notably not for sadness, and (b) produced higher emotional-intensity ratings, regardless of lighting condition, for movies but to a lesser extent for stills, indicating that intensity judgments of body gestures rely more on movement (or form-from-movement) than static form information.

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Date of first online publication:June 2004
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