Original Paper

Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, 33:213

First online:

Cross-Cultural Judgments of Spontaneous Facial Expressions of Emotion

  • David MatsumotoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, San Francisco State University Email author 
  • , Andres OlideAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, San Francisco State University
  • , Joanna SchugAffiliated withHokkaido University
  • , Bob WillinghamAffiliated withThe World of Judo
  • , Mike CallanAffiliated withUniversity of Bath

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We report data concerning cross-cultural judgments of emotion in spontaneously produced facial expressions. Americans, Japanese, British, and International Students in the US reliably attributed emotions to the expressions of Olympic judo athletes at the end of a match for a medal, and at two times during the subsequent medal ceremonies. There were some observer culture differences in absolute attribution agreement rates, but high cross-cultural agreement in differences in attribution rates across expressions (relative agreement rates). Moreover, we operationalized signal clarity and demonstrated that it was associated with agreement rates similarly in all cultures. Finally, we obtained judgments of won-lost match outcomes and medal finish, and demonstrated that the emotion judgments were associated with accuracy in judgments of outcomes. These findings demonstrated that members of different cultures reliably judge spontaneously expressed emotions, and that across observer cultures, lower absolute agreement rates are related to noise produced by non-emotional facial behaviors. Also, the findings suggested that observers of different cultures utilize the same facial cues when judging emotions, and that the signal value of facial expressions is similar across cultures.


Emotion Facial expressions Culture Signal clarity Attributions Judgment accuracy