A new look at emotion perception: Concepts speed and shape facial emotion recognition

Erik C. Nook, Kristen A. Lindquist, Jamil Zaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Decades ago, the "New Look" movement challenged how scientists thought about vision by suggesting that conceptual processes shape visual perceptions. Currently, affective scientists are likewise debating the role of concepts in emotion perception. Here, we utilized a repetition-priming paradigm in conjunction with signal detection and individual difference analyses to examine how providing emotion labels-which correspond to discrete emotion concepts-affects emotion recognition. In Study 1, pairing emotional faces with emotion labels (e.g., "sad") increased individuals' speed and sensitivity in recognizing emotions. Additionally, individuals with alexithymia-who have difficulty labeling their own emotions-struggled to recognize emotions based on visual cues alone, but not when emotion labels were provided. Study 2 replicated these findings and further demonstrated that emotion concepts can shape perceptions of facial expressions. Together, these results suggest that emotion perception involves conceptual processing. We discuss the implications of these findings for affective, social, and clinical psychology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-578
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Alexithymia
  • Concepts
  • Emotion perception
  • Top-down processing


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