Perceiving acculturation from neutral and emotional faces

R. Thora Bjornsdottir, Nicholas O. Rule

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Facial expressions of emotion convey more than just emotional experience. Indeed, they can signal a person's social group memberships. For instance, extant research shows that nonverbal accents in emotion expression can reveal one's cultural affiliation (Marsh, Elfenbein, & Ambady, 2003). That work tested distinctions only between people belonging to one of two cultural categories, however (Japanese vs. Japanese Americans). What of people who identify with more than one culture? Here we tested whether nonverbal accents might signal not only cultural identification but also the degree of cultural identification (i.e., acculturation). Using neutral, happy, and angry photos of East Asian individuals varying in acculturation to Canada, we found that both Canadian and East Asian perceivers could accurately detect the targets' level of acculturation. Although perceivers used hairstyle cues when available, once we removed hair, accuracy was greatest for happy expressions-supporting the idea that nonverbal accents convey cultural identification. Finally, the intensity of targets' happiness related to both their self-reported and perceived acculturation, helping to explain perceivers' accuracy and aligning with research on cultural display rules and ideal affect. Thus, nonverbal accents appear to communicate cultural identification not only categorically, as previous work has shown, but also continuously.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720–729
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Early online date19 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2021

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