Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 165–182 | Cite as

Facial expressions of emotion influence interpersonal trait inferences

  • Brian Knutson


Theorists have argued that facial expressions of emotion serve the interpersonal function of allowing one animal to predict another's behavior. Humans may extend these predictions into the indefinite future, as in the case of trait inference. The hypothesis that facial expressions of emotion (e.g., anger, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness) affect subjects' interpersonal trait inferences (e.g., dominance and affiliation) was tested in two experiments. Subjects rated the dispositional affiliation and dominance of target faces with either static or apparently moving expressions. They inferred high dominance and affiliation from happy expressions, high dominance and low affiliation from angry and disgusted expressions, and low dominance from fearful and sad expressions. The findings suggest that facial expressions of emotion convey not only a target's internal state, but also differentially convey interpersonal information, which could potentially seed trait inference.


Social Psychology Facial Expression Internal State High Dominance Seed Trait 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (1993). Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 431–441.Google Scholar
  2. Berry, D. S. (1991). Accuracy in social perception: Contributions of facial and vocal information.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 298–307.Google Scholar
  3. Borkenau, P., & Liebler, A. (1992). Trait inferences: Sources of validity at zero acquaintance.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 645–657.Google Scholar
  4. Buss, D. M., & Barnes, M. (1986). Preferences in mate selection.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 559–570.Google Scholar
  5. Buss, D. M., Gomes, M., Higgins, D. S., & Lauterbach, K. (1987). Tactics of manipulation.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1219–1229.Google Scholar
  6. Darwin, C. (1962).The expression of the emotions in man and animals. London: John Murray (originally published in 1872).Google Scholar
  7. Ekman, P. (1972). Universals and cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion. In J. Cole (Ed.),Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1971 (pp. 207–283). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ekman, P. (1979). About brows: Emotional and conversational signals. In M. von Cranach, W. Lepenies, & D. Ploog (Eds.),Human ethology (pp. 169–202). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Ekman, P. (Ed.). (1982).Emotion in the human face, 2nd ed., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion.American Psychologist, 48, 384–392.Google Scholar
  11. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1975).Unmasking the face: A guide to recognizing emotions from facial cues. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  12. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1976).Pictures of facial affect. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Pan-cultural elements in facial displays of emotions.Science, 164, 86–88.Google Scholar
  14. Field, T. (1994). The effects of mother's physical and emotional unavailability on emotion regulation.Monographs of the Society for Research on Child Development, 59, 208–227.Google Scholar
  15. Frank, R. H. (1988).Passions within reason: The strategic role of the emotions. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Freedman, M. B., Leary, T. F., Ossorio, A. G., & Coffey, H. S. (1951). The interpersonal dimension of personality.Journal of Personality, 20, 143–161.Google Scholar
  17. Funder, D. C., & Sneed, C. D. (1993). Behavioral manifestations of personality: An ecological approach to judgmental accuracy.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 479–490.Google Scholar
  18. Gifford, R. (1991). Mapping nonverbal behavior on the interpersonal circle.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 279–288.Google Scholar
  19. Henley, N. M., & LaFrance, M. (1984). Gender as culture: Difference and dominance in nonverbal behavior. In A. Wolfgang (Ed.),Nonverbal behavior: Perspectives, applications, intercultural insights (pp. 351–371). Lewiston, NY: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Horowitz, L. M., Rosenberg, S. E., Baer, B. A., Ureno, G., & Villasenor, V. S. (1988). Inventory of Interpersonal Problems: Psychometric properties and clinical applications.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 885–892.Google Scholar
  21. Izard, C. E. (1972).Patterns of emotions: A new analysis of anxiety and depression. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  22. Keating, C. F., Mazur, A., & Segall, M. H. (1977). Facial gestures which influence the perception of status.Social Psychology Quarterly, 40, 374–378.Google Scholar
  23. Keating, C. F., Mazur, A., Segall, M. H., Cysneiros, P. G., Divale, W. T., Kilbride, J. E., Komin, S., Leahy, P., Thurman, B., & Wirsing, R. (1981). Culture and the perception of social dominance from facial expression.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 615–626.Google Scholar
  24. Kenny, D. A., Horner, C., Kashy, D. A., & Chu, L. (1992). Consensus at zero acquaintance: Replication, behavioral cues, and stability.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 88–97.Google Scholar
  25. Knutson, B. (1993). “Neutral” faces differ in emotional impact. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  26. Malatesta, C. Z., Fiore, M. J., & Messina, J. J. (1987). Affect, personality and facial expressive characteristics of older people.Psychology and Aging, 2, 64–69.Google Scholar
  27. Matsumoto, D., & Kudoh, T. (1993). American-Japanese cultural differences in attributions of personality based on smiles.Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 17, 231–243.Google Scholar
  28. Plutchik, R. (1980).Emotion: A psychoevolutionary synthesis. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  29. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178.Google Scholar
  30. Russell, J. A., & Mehrabian, A. (1977). Evidence for a 3-factory theory of emotions.Journal of Research in Personality, 11, 273–294.Google Scholar
  31. Schaefer, E. S., & Plutchik, R. (1966). Interrelationship of emotions, traits, and diagnostic constructs.Psychological Reports, 18, 399–410.Google Scholar
  32. Scherer, K. R., Scherer, U., Hall, J. A., & Rosenthal, R. (1977). Differential attribution of personality on multi-channel presentation of verbal and nonverbal cues.Psychological Research, 39, 221–247.Google Scholar
  33. Secord, P. F. (1958). Facial features and inference processes in interpersonal perception. In R. Taguiri & L. Petrullo (Eds.),Person Perception and Interpersonal Behavior (pp. 300–315). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656–666.Google Scholar
  35. Watson, D. (1989). Strangers' ratings of the five robust personality factors: Evidence of a surprising accuracy.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 120–128.Google Scholar
  36. Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. L. (1992). Personality: Structure and assessment.Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 473–504.Google Scholar
  37. Wiggins, J. S., Trapnell, P., & Phillips, N. (1988). Psychometric and geometric characteristics of the Revised Interpersonal Adjective Scales (IAS-R).Multivariate Behavioral Research, 23, 517–530.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBowling Green State UniversityBowling Green

Personalised recommendations