Cognitive Daily

i-eca0cf2af9fc3ac4445c7dff7d8aab70-research.gifTake 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.


  1. #1 Dave S.
    May 18, 2006

    Maybe you were going for a boring contemptable pride?

    I think your eyes are too wide open.

  2. #2 Sobex
    May 18, 2006

    I agree with the view that the ideal expression of pride is “a small smile, with the head tilted slightly back, and an open posture, with hands on the hips or arms raised.” However, I didn’t think you had a small smile in the picture. Perhaps it’s the facial hair that turned your small smile into no smile, in my eyes. A wider smile would have been unambiguous, but then, it probably wouldn’t have evoked the emotion of pride either.

  3. #3 MtMan900
    May 18, 2006

    Yeah, I voted for “contempt” because you were facing the camera dead on with your hands on your hips, your face devoid of any happy emotion (in my opinion).

    If you had tilted your head back, as the previous commenter said, that would have been a dead giveaway.

  4. #4 julia
    May 18, 2006

    I voted for contempt because of the way your eyes appear focused directly on, and looking a little down at, the camera/viewer. It seems to me that in pride, with the person’s attention inward, the eyes would be a little unfocused, not so directly at the watcher, maybe straight ahead instead of down.

  5. #5 Dave Munger
    May 18, 2006

    What I want to know is why no one thought I was excited in that picture!

    Seriously, though, I think Sobex might be on to something — the beard makes it hard to see a smile unless there are teeth showing, as in my profile picture above. But I don’t think you’d associate a toothy grin with pride, would you?

    I did try a couple pictures with my head tilted back further, and that looked even more contemptful/condescending. This may be about the closest I can get to “pride.” Perhaps I ought to put that acting career on hold!

  6. #6 Zeno
    May 18, 2006

    Sobex is right: I couldn’t see the smile either. The mustache keeps us from seeing if the corners of your mouth are tweaked up in a small smile.

  7. #7 ThePolynomial
    May 18, 2006

    Yeah, specifically on your left side…the moustache catches your lip line so it looks like its dragging the corner of your mouth down. I did check ‘pride,’ but I was debating between that at contempt.

  8. #8 Mark Frank
    May 18, 2006

    I think there is something subtle going on here. Expression indicates emotion, but context is an even more powerful indicator. If someone is grinning over a sculpture they have just made or a game they have just won then that is a pretty overwhelming indicator of their emotion. It might appear that the photograph is free of context but the fact that you are looking straight at camera gives the impression there is someone you are looking at and focussing on – which is a sort of context. If you are looking at someone then it is unlikely to be pride – you would be more absorbed with yourself – and the next most likely on the list was contempt which would imply a strong relationship with someone.

  9. #9 Harlan
    May 18, 2006

    I don’t see pride in the image either, and I wonder if it’s because the small smile is a fake smile, without the contractions around the eyes that make it look authentic. Your eyes look a bit bored or worried to me, not happy or pround.

  10. #10 tom s
    May 18, 2006

    mild exasperation

  11. #11 boojieboy
    May 18, 2006

    The facial hair makes you look more threatening/aggressive, hence the fact that the highest rating is for “contempt”

  12. #12 T.K.
    May 18, 2006

    Is there a whole lot of difference between contempt and pride? Your smile may be similar to the one that I had when the waiter screwed up my order at lunch. My colleagues and I had a degree of contempt for the incompetence of the waiter and also the (false) belief that we are much more competent and would never make such simple mistakes. In other words, was our contempt for the waiter’s incompetence related to a sense of (false) pride in our own careers/accomplishments/competence? Afterall, condescensions is often delivered with a smile.

  13. #13 kf
    May 18, 2006

    I immediately thought: smugness. Which I guess is related to pride.

  14. #14 Katherine Moore
    May 18, 2006

    I also thought it was exasperation which is why I voted “none of these”. Out of the other optons my first choice would have been boredom. Like everyone else, I didn’t see the smile. In fact, I read the “pride” option and thought, “nope, the corners of his mouth are not turned up.”

  15. I picked “none of these,” because my first thought was of agitation and annoyance–not contempt, really, so I couldn’t put that. Hands at your side would change this entirely. Hands on your hips can often convey exasperation, I think.

  16. #16 Tony
    May 18, 2006

    Problem is that you are forcing an emotion. Just as a natural smile and a posed smile involve different brain areas… why not this forced emotion.

    OK now LOOK angry…. it isn’t going to be the same look as when you ARE angry.

  17. I picked contempt, but perhaps it was because proud people often look on me with contempt.

  18. #18 Stephen Downes
    May 18, 2006

    I was thinking ‘satisfaction’, especially because of the slight smile, or ‘accomplishment’; I picked ‘pride’ because it was the closest to these.

  19. #19 CanuckRob
    May 18, 2006

    I got impatience from it so had to vote Other. Pride wasn’t even close

  20. #20 Dave Munger
    May 18, 2006

    One thing I would like to point out, before we all agree that my acting skills are absolutely pathetic, is that among the universal emotions from the list, pride actually does rank first. Contempt is not one of the universals. So that’s something, anyway!

  21. #21 Q
    May 18, 2006

    I was gonna suggest expressionless, as in neither happy or sad, neither smug or shy. But since you yourself have suggested pride is favourite among the above, and I have the benefit of hindsight (as in after 20 comments), I’ll venture expressionless, or as expressionless as you can get without betraying some other emotion. Or at least if you are in a Police Line-Up you are neither embarrassed at being there, nor have any fears/guilt. Else you are confident your lawyer will get you out (or post bail) soon.

  22. #22 ws
    May 18, 2006

    I was thinking “resigned” or “impatient.” I suspect I might have picked “pride” if I could have seen the corners of your mouth.

  23. #23 Carl Manaster
    May 19, 2006

    I got “impatient,” too. Don’t be too proud of your acting ability! 😉

  24. #24 maxine
    May 19, 2006

    To me you look as if you are about to give a lecture, and are considering what to say — but when you say it, you are going to declaim it (as opposed to saying it conversationally).

  25. #25 Alan Kellogg
    May 19, 2006

    Was it something you ate?

  26. #26 Dave Munger
    May 19, 2006

    “Was it something you ate?”

    Okay, I admit it, it was… I was hoping you’d all be distracted by my T-shirt.

  27. #27
    May 19, 2006

    yep, I also voted impatience. But it wasn’t a choice, so i picked contempt.

  28. #28 The Neurocritic
    May 19, 2006

    I agree with kf and immediately thought, “smugness” which I rated as “none of these.” Perhaps some pride mixed in with a bit of contempt for the [obviously inferior] viewer.

    One problem, though, is that body posture goes way beyond facial expression alone. Or at least I was swayed by your hands-on-hips stance.

  29. #29 John Wilkins
    May 20, 2006

    I nearly picked Other, because I didn’t think “constipated” was an emotion, but I went for “Boredom” instead…

  30. #30 cathy
    May 20, 2006

    i thought ‘self-satisfaction’ & it took me a while to translate it to ‘pride’ from the choices.

    i think the viewer brings ‘contempt’ to the table… if you see someone who is proud it can also mean as a viewer you could imagine he feels better than you, perhaps depending how the viewer may feel about themselves at that moment.

  31. #31 PZ Myers
    May 20, 2006

    My guess was bemusement.

  32. #32 Caledonian
    May 20, 2006

    I voted for contempt — I think it had something to do with your state. When I think of stereotypical expressions of pride, the expression I imagine often involves the person “looking into the distance” with an unfocused gaze.

    For whatever reason, I couldn’t get over the feeling that your expression was sarcastic or ironic.

  33. #33 Robyn
    May 21, 2006

    I thought you were going for smugness so I voted “none of these”. But of the ones on the list, I thought contempt was the best fit. Interesting responses!

  34. #34 David Harmon
    May 22, 2006

    I didn’t see the smile either, and I didn’t “read” an emotion proper, just a projection of dominance — that is, you look like you’re “looking down” at someone, a non-verbal “peck”.

  35. #35 Kevin Doran
    May 22, 2006

    I would have said annoyance and frustration. The eyes did it.

  36. #36 Sheri
    May 22, 2006

    I picked pride- but I agree with the posts about the connection between pride and contempt. Isn’t contempt for others really just the the product of pride? So perhaps those people who picked contempt were not reacting to what they saw on your expression, but on the reaction they felt looking at you – They took the positive attribute of pride-(well mostly positive) and felt the negative reaction of contempt
    “This man thinks so much of himself, he must have contempt for me”

    Of course, I’m secretly suspicious of all people who have beards – what are they hiding?

  37. #37 jdee
    May 23, 2006

    The more I read about facial expressions, the more respect I have for good actors. Like a lot of professions, it’s hard for lay people to understand all the work and experise that goes into something, particularly when the practioner is skilled enough to “make it look easy.”

    I think you probably would have had better luck with Pride if you had concentrated on something that really does make you feel proud. Did you do that when you took the picture? If not, you should try that and post them side by side to compare the results!

  38. #38 Chardyspal
    May 26, 2006

    I think you look..ready – receptive – interested – approachable with maybe just a little hint of exasperation.

  39. #39 susheela
    May 27, 2006

    I would have said “decided”, not “proud”. It lacks self-contentment for “proud”, I think. And it definitely isn’t contempt, the lips aren’t pursed that way.

  40. #40 Kathleen Fasanella
    June 1, 2006

    If it’s not too much to ask, can you please give the answer to your polls in the future? It’s very frustrating (this isn’t the first time). I am *guessing* that judging from your post, we were to surmise that “pride” was the answer but it was never specifically stated. As an autistic, I *cannot* read facial expression and similarly, I am poor at infering conclusions without specificity (imo, that’s jumping to conclusions). Judging from how many answered “contempt”, it would seem that others were likewise baffled. Then again, perhaps you *were* signaling contempt but you never said either way. It’s frustrating to read all this, do the poll and to be left as confused as when I got to it. There’s no closure on this which is the least I should have gotten after reading it.

  41. #41 Dave Munger
    June 1, 2006


    In retrospect, I could have been a little clearer about it, but I think you’ll agree that if you reread the last paragraph, you’ll see that I did give the answer: pride.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clearer. I always try to give the answers to poll questions in my posts.

  42. #42 Lisa
    August 1, 2006

    I’m in agreement with the first impression being “self satisfaction” After reading the listed options, I did chose pride.
    I scrolled up on the page so your hands on your hips didn’t distract me from your face. It was at that point that I noticed your cheeks peering out from your beard and confirmed my inital impression. Slight smile achieved in my book!
    To me, it appears you’ve just taken a step back from the successful assemblage of furniture with vague directions.

  43. #43 chri
    January 9, 2009

    you look constipated to me just saying

New comments have been disabled.