Take a look at this photo:
What emotion would you say I’m expressing here? Let’s make this one a poll (make sure you answer before you read any farther):
In 1872, Charles Darwin argued that facial expressions must have evolved just as surely as eyes or noses (you can read an excerpt from his work on emotional expressions in Greta’s book The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions). Later research has shown that there are several universally understood facial expressions, and that these expressions can be defined and described specifically so that anyone can imitate them and make their particular emotion known to others.
Until recently, the list of universally recognized expressions included only one positive emotion: happiness. The rest were negative or neutral (anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, and perhaps contempt and embarrassment).
But Jessica Tracy and Richard Robins believed another emotion belonged on the list: pride. They devised a set of experiments to determine if pride could also be reliably expressed with only a facial expression. In the first experiment, they showed a group of volunteers 29 photos depicting actors expressing pride, happiness, or surprise. The viewers then indicated what emotion was expressed in each photo on a multiple choice form. Pride was accurately identified 83 percent of the time, compared to 79 percent for happiness. Only 5 percent of happy photos and none of the surprise photos were misidentified as pride.
But perhaps pride was only identified because of the forced choice. In a second experiment, viewers saw the best 15 photos from the first experiment, but were only asked an open-ended question: “which emotion is being expressed in this photo?” A panel of 8 judges were then asked to rate the responses as to how “pride-related” they were (for example, proud and triumphant counted, but happy and angry didn’t). Again, 64 percent of the “pride” photos were described as pride-related. Only 3 percent of the “happy” photos were miscategorized as pride-related.
In a third experiment, the researchers showed participants photos of actors with different amounts of smile and head tilt, in order to find the particular expression which best represented pride. The ideal expression was a small smile, with the head tilted slightly back, and an open posture, with hands on the hips or arms raised. That’s the expression I was going for in my mug shot above. The poll results should show how I did.
Tracy, J.L. & Robins, R.W. (2004). Show your pride: Evidence for a discrete emotion expression. Psychological Science, 15(3), 194-197.