Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 111–138

Conceptual and methodological issues in the judgment of facial expressions of emotion

  • Erika L. Rosenberg
  • Paul Ekman

DOI: 10.1007/BF02250566

Cite this article as:
Rosenberg, E.L. & Ekman, P. Motiv Emot (1995) 19: 111. doi:10.1007/BF02250566


In two studies, subjects judged a set of facial expressions of emotion by either providing labels of their own choice to describe the stimuli (free-choice condition), choosing a label from a list of emotion words, or choosing a story from a list of emotion stories (fixed-choice conditions). In the free-choice condition, levels of agreement between subjects on the predicted emotion categories for six basic emotions were significantly greater than chance levels, and comparable to those shown in fixed-choice studies. As predicted, there was little to no agreement on a verbal label for contempt. Agreement on contempt was greatly improved when subjects were allowed to identify the expression in terms of an antecedent event for that emotion rather than in terms of a single verbal label, a finding that could not be attributed to the methodological artifact of exclusion in a fixed-choice paradigm. These findings support two conclusions: (1) that the labels used in fixed-choice paradigms accurately reflect the verbal categories people use when free labeling facial expressions of emotion, and (2) that lexically ambiguous emotions, such as contempt, are understood in terms of their situational meanings.

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erika L. Rosenberg
    • 1
  • Paul Ekman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan Francisco
  2. 2.the Department of PsychologyUniversity of DelawareNewark