Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 204, Issue 3, pp 361–372 | Cite as

Perceiving emotion in crowds: the role of dynamic body postures on the perception of emotion in crowded scenes

  • Joanna Edel McHugh
  • Rachel McDonnell
  • Carol O’Sullivan
  • Fiona N. Newell
Research article


Although the perception of emotion in individuals is an important social skill, very little is known about how emotion is determined from a crowd of individuals. We investigated the perception of emotion in scenes of crowds populated by dynamic characters each expressing an emotion. Facial expressions were masked in these characters and emotion was conveyed using body motion and posture only. We systematically varied the proportion of characters in each scene depicting one of two emotions and participants were required to categorise the overall emotion of the crowd. In Experiment 1, we found that the perception of emotions in a crowd is efficient even with relatively brief exposures of the crowd stimuli. Furthermore, the emotion of a crowd was generally determined by the relative proportions of characters conveying it, although we also found that some emotions dominated perception. In Experiment 2, we found that an increase in crowd size was not associated with a relative decrease in the efficiency with which the emotion was categorised. Our findings suggest that body motion is an important social cue in perceiving the emotion of crowds and have implications for our understanding of how we perceive social information from groups.


Social perception Crowd scenes Emotion 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna Edel McHugh
    • 1
  • Rachel McDonnell
    • 2
  • Carol O’Sullivan
    • 2
  • Fiona N. Newell
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychology, Institute of NeuroscienceTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Graphics, Vision and Visualisation GroupTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland

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