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How Real is That Smile- Mood Effects on Accepting or Rejecting the Veracity of Emotional Facial Expressions

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A Journal About Smile and Mood
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  ORIGINAL PAPER How Real is that Smile? Mood Effects on Acceptingor Rejecting the Veracity of Emotional FacialExpressions Joseph P. Forgas   Rebekah East Published online: 9 April 2008   Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008 Abstract  Does mood influence people’s tendency to accept observed facial expressionsas genuine? Based on recent theories of affect and cognition, two experiments predictedand found that negative mood increased and positive mood decreased people’s skepticismabout the genuineness of facial expressions. After a mood induction, participants viewedimages of faces displaying (a) positive, neutral, and negative expressions (Exp. 1), or (b)displays of six specific emotions (Exp. 2). Judgments of genuineness, valence, and con-fidence ratings were collected. As predicted, positive affect increased, and negative affectdecreased the perceived genuineness of facial expressions, and there was some evidencefor affect-congruence in judgments. The relevance of these findings for everyday non-verbal communication and strategic interpersonal behavior are considered, and theirimplications for recent affect-cognition theories are discussed. Keywords  Affect    Facial expressions of emotion    Skepticism Introduction Deciding whether a facial display is genuine or deceptive is a common yet difficult task ineveryday social life (Jones 1964). Surprisingly, we still know very little about how moodsmay influence people’s skepticism about nonverbal displays, and their willingness toaccept or reject observed displays as genuine. This is all the more surprising, as decisionsabout the authenticity of the affective displays of a romantic partner, a friend, a child or anemployee are important tasks that are loaded with personal significance. Indeed, errors indecoding facial expressions seem to be associated with reduced relationship outcomes andgreater depression (Bouhuys et al. 1996; Carton et al. 1999). However, as emotional facial expressions may also be faked, social actors must becareful to monitor the veracity and plausibility of the nonverbal displays they observe. Theacceptance of a faked facial display can be just as problematic as the rejection of a genuine J. P. Forgas ( & )    R. EastSchool of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australiae-mail: jp.forgas@unsw.edu.au  1 3 J Nonverbal Behav (2008) 32:157–170DOI 10.1007/s10919-008-0050-1  one. Does temporary mood influence people’s willingness to accept observed displays asgenuine? For example, are happy persons more trusting of nonverbal displays than are sadpeople? Although there has been some work on the effects of mood on the perceivedvalence, quality, and intensity of facial expressions (Bouhuys et al. 1995; Schiffenbauer1974), there has been little prior work on the effects of mood on the perceived genuinenessof facial displays. Exploring this issue is the primary aim of this paper.Decoding Emotional ExpressionsSince the early theorizing of Darwin, researchers have recognized that facial expressions of emotion serve an important interpersonal function, as universal cross-cultural signalsindicating positive and negative feelings, attitudes, and intentions (Darwin 1872; Ekman1972). But how do we decide if an observed facial expression is genuine? Knowing whento accept or doubt nonverbal displays is of critical importance in everyday social life,including such applied domains as forensic, judicial, and investigative practice (Ciarrochi,Forgas and Mayer 2001). People seem able to differentiate between honest and deceptivecommunications at a level significantly, but only slightly above chance (Bond and DePaulo2006; Kraut 1980). There are a number of reasons why people are generally poor at detecting dishonest communications (Levine et al. 1999), including the fact that no simplebehavioral cues exist that infallibly indicate deception (Bond and DePaulo 2006; DePauloet al. 2003).Given the highly constructive and interpretive nature of social judgments in general, andthe decoding of nonverbal messages in particular (Asch 1946; Forgas et al. 1984), judg- ments about the veracity of facial displays are likely to be susceptible to a variety of internal and situational influences. Although there has been much interest in the accuracyat decoding facial expressions, 1 there has been little prior research on the influence of mood on the perceived  genuineness  of facial displays. The current experiments extendrecent work on affect and social cognition to the new domain of decoding nonverbal facialdisplays, and will explore the influence of mood on the acceptance or rejection of facialexpressions of emotion as genuine.Evaluating the genuineness of others’ communications is subject to a number of sys-tematic errors, such as a pervasive positivity or ‘‘truth bias’’. The tendency to assume thatothers are truthful may prevent people from actively searching for cues to deception and soreduces detection accuracy (McCornack and Parks 1986). Further, there is an additionalbias to interpret observed communications as reflecting genuine dispositions (a corre-spondence bias; DePaulo 1992). As a consequence, people more often than not arepredisposed to accept displays of emotion at face value. To what extent do changes in theinternal states of the perceiver, such as moods, influence perceptions of nonverbalauthenticity? Based on recent research on affect and social cognition, we predict that moodmay influence both the truth bias, and the incidence of the fundamental attribution error.Thus, happy people are more likely to form positive, lenient, and optimistic inferencesabout inherently ambiguous social information (Forgas 1995, 2002; Forgas et al. 1984), resulting in the greater acceptance of facial displays as genuine. Further, happy personsare also more likely to commit the fundamental attribution error than are sad people 1 It should be noted that no claim is made here about the effects of mood on the actual accuracy of judges indetecting real vs. fake facial expressions. As all facial expressions were posed, the focus of this paper is onthe effects of mood on judges’  inclination  to accept, or reject observed facial expressions as genuine.158 J Nonverbal Behav (2008) 32:157–170  1 3  (Forgas 1998), leading to a greater correspondence bias in positive mood and the greateracceptance of facial displays as reflecting genuine dispositions.Affect and the Decoding of Nonverbal SignalsOur interest here is in the effects of moods rather than distinct emotions on the acceptanceor rejection of facial displays, as subconscious moods often have more uniform, enduringand reliable cognitive and behavioral consequences than is the case with highly context-specific emotions (Forgas 2006). We may define moods as low-intensity, diffuse, andrelatively enduring affective states without a salient antecedent cause and therefore littlecognitive content, whereas emotions are more intense, short-lived, and usually have adefinite cause and clear cognitive content (Forgas 1995, 2002). Existing research mainly looked at the effects of moods on the perceived  quality ( valence ) and  intensity  of others’ facial expressions (Bouhuys et al. 1995; Terwogt et al.1991) but not the  genuineness and veracity  of facial expressions. For example, Bouhuyset al. (1995) found that listening to depressing or elating music influenced perceptions, asdepressed subjects perceived more rejection/sadness in ambiguous faces. Similar resultswere reported by Schiffenbauer (1974) and Terwogt et al. (1991) suggesting that people are inclined to perceive faces in a mood-congruent manner. Numerous studies also lookedat facial perception in clinical populations, and found that a poor ability to decode facialsignals seems associated with depression and reduced relationship well-being (Bouhuyset al. 1996; Carton et al. 1999). It is not entirely clear how these findings may apply to people’s perception of the genuineness  of observed facial expressions, and their acceptance or rejection of the dis-plays as real. However, to the extent that depressed mood seems to amplify a negative biasin the perception of faces (Bouhuys et al. 1999), we may expect that negative mood mayalso increase skepticism and the rejection of facial expressions as faked and not genuine.What are the cognitive mechanisms that may produce such an outcome? Recent affect-cognition theories identify two distinct psychological mechanisms that should producemood effects on social judgments in general, and judgments about trust and deception inparticular: (1)  informational mechanisms  (when mood influences the content of cognition),and (2)  processing effects  (when mood influences the process of cognition).  Informational Effects Moods may influence judgments by selectively  priming  information that is associativelylinked to the current mood state within a network of memory representations (Bower 1981;Forgas 1995). Thus, positive mood should prime a more positive, trusting evaluation of afacial display, and negative mood should prime greater skepticism and rejection. Consis-tent with the affect-priming model, numerous studies found a mood-congruent bias in theway people form judgments about others and themselves (Bless and Fiedler 2006; Fiedler2001; Forgas 1994, 1995; Forgas et al. 1984; Niedenthal et al. 2000). Recent theories of  affect and cognition such as the Affect Infusion Model (AIM; Forgas 1995, 2002) spe- cifically predict that affect congruence should be greatest when a more elaborate,constructive processing strategy is required to perform a task, as would be the case withveracity and genuineness judgments (Fiedler 2001; Forgas 1995; Sedikides 1995). Because veracity judgments typically require judges to go beyond the information given (Bond andDePaulo 2006; Kraut 1980; O’Sullivan 2003), we may expect a mood-congruent bias in such judgments, leading to the more critical and negative assessment of facial displays as J Nonverbal Behav (2008) 32:157–170 159  1 3  faked in negative mood, reducing the well-known ‘truth bias’ by sad judges (McCornack and Parks 1986). Processing Effects of Mood  In addition to the mood-congruent informational effects, moods may also impact  how information is processed (  processing effects ). People in a positive mood tend to adopt amore assimilative, top-down processing style, while people in a negative mood tend toprocess external information in a more attentive, externally focused, accommodativemanner (Bless 2001; Fiedler 2001). Consistent with this prediction, people in a negative mood process external information more systematically (Bless et al. 1987; Fiedler et al.1992), leading to the reduction of some judgmental errors (Forgas 1998), and improved accuracy in eyewitness recollections (Forgas et al. 2005). It is just this kind of externallyfocused processing style that should be effective in reducing the fundamental attributionbias and the common ‘truth bias’ and should thus lead to the more skeptical and distrustfulevaluation of interpersonal communications (Bless 2001; Fiedler 2001). The Present ResearchWhen applied to veracity judgments, both cognitive mechanisms described above suggestthat negative mood should increase skepticism and the rejection of facial displays, andpositive mood should produce greater credulity and the acceptance of the displays asgenuine. Accordingly we expected that negative moods should produce more critical,skeptical, and pessimistic judgments ( an informational effect  ), and should also promote amore attentive information processing style likely to increase skepticism about the genu-ineness facial displays (a  processing effect  ). In contrast, happy people should be morelikely to accept facial displays as truthful (McCornack and Parks 1986). Experiment 1 Experiment 1 was designed as an initial exploration of mood effects on the perceivedgenuineness of facial expressions.Method Overview and Design Participantsfirstreceivedafalse-feedbackmoodinduction(beingtoldthattheyhavedonewellor badly on an anagram task), and then rated the genuineness of positive, neutral and negativefacial expressions. The experiment involved a 2 (mood: positive, negative) 9  2 (emotionalexpression: positive, neutral, negative) factorial design with repeated measures on the secondfactor.Participantswere40(21womenand19men)studentswithanaverageageof20.7 years.  Materials: The Facial Stimuli Six different stimulus pictures (3 men and 3 women) were selected from headshots of professional actors instructed to display positive, neutral, or negative moods. Pilot tests(  N   =  23) reveled that the positive, neutral, and negative faces were indeed perceived as 160 J Nonverbal Behav (2008) 32:157–170  1 3

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