The role of peripheral vision in emotional recognition is crucial to our perception of the world.
This is the conclusion of exciting research by Dr. Fraser Smith of the University of East Anglia. Dr. Smith and his team looked at the ways in which our peripheral vision manages to capture expressions of fear, tying this with central questions related to the evolution of emotional recognition and basic emotions.
In an admittedly small study of fourteen participants, researchers displayed images of various emotions from either directly in front of faces to orientations to the left or right of their face. These images contained a baseline neutral expression as well as images of people demonstrating six basic emotions, and participants were asked to identify the emotion shown.
This set up was intended to see if participants were able to first detect an emotion and then recognize which one it was. Interestingly, there were significant differences between each emotion. Fear was easily detected but less easily recognized, while happiness and surprise were generally well identified.
Moreover, they found that rates of recognition differed significantly when images were moved to peripheral vision. The authors emphasized the implications for individuals who struggle to recognize emotions, such as autism, as this research seeks to better understand those relevant neurological pathways.
Dr. Smith summarized how the paper importantly related to social interactions, stating “We show that it is not just being able to recognise expressions that is important, but being able to detect them in the first place. This gives us a different picture of which underlying systems may be impaired, which has potential implications for treatment of conditions where perception of emotions is affected.”
Moreover, this research furthers our understanding of the evolutionary roots of emotions and emotional recognition. For instance, in a past blog we outlined how our subtle emotional processes creates a type of emotional “landscape.” This is the result of us synthesizing impressions of emotions, such as fear and disgust, and creating a general map of the world as it relates to those emotions.
These sorts of landscapes are fundamental in allowing us to navigate the world around us and are present in many animals besides humans. Similarly, the very notion of universal emotions can be seen as tied into our evolutionary experience with the world around us, and they are certainly shared by many apes and other non-human animals.
Dr. Smith’s research helps tap into these fundamental questions, in addition to questions of social interaction. If we implicitly recognize certain emotions and identify others, our brain is doing some very focused work based on that emotion, and this is likely rooted in the evolutionary importance of each emotion.
Similarly, it is not possible to separate these evolutionary questions from those relevant to social interaction, as Dr. Smith emphasized the fundamental nature of social interaction to our daily lives.
Certainly, we are hardwired to detect and recognize emotions, but these instincts are far from perfect. This is where Humintell comes in: to harness those processes and make you better able to read people and their emotions!