How Do You Feel?

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As kids, we learn to categorize our emotions through basic associations—a wide grin conveys happiness, while a furrowed brow suggests anger. This ability, which is called emotional perception, is an important process in social functioning. In the past, researchers have measured emotional perception based on generic versions of emotions, such as a smile or a scowl. However, this approach ignores that emotions are complex experiences felt over time.

Moving beyond a simplified picture of emotional perception, researchers at Yale conducted a new test for emotional perception. Participants were asked to view clips from movies with various levels of emotional changes and identify those moments of change. The researchers found that participants who described the emotional changes in more depth were able to label these emotional changes more easily. These results point towards a link between language and emotional perception—people with a greater emotional lexicon tend to be better at inferring emotions.
This test for emotional perception might be used to more effectively teach people how to understand emotions in others, increasing the emotional intelligence of the public. The researchers believe that their test is particularly beneficial for people working in fields such as healthcare, law enforcement, and education. “Using techniques like these dynamic videos can try to get people to notice subtle cues to emotion, which might benefit training [in these fields],” Maria Gendron, the lead researcher, said. These new training procedures could help doctors, police officers, and teachers better serve their communities.