June 2, 2004
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Smart Robots (04.24.03) - Scientists are making robots that can smile, frown, and even react to your expressions and emotions.

Shy Brains (11.13.03) - Psychologists can see the signature of shyness imprinted in the brain, from toddlers to twenty-year-olds.


Facial Expressions (Kismet the Robot, MIT)

Body Language

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image: Jessica Tracy, UC-Davis
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Scientists are finding more and more that non-verbal communication has some common traits. As this ScienCentral News video reports, researchers hope this will be a way to better improve human communication.

Express Yourself

Would you recognize a proud person if you saw her? New research says yes, and underlines the significance of pride as a human emotion.

"Pride…is a really important emotion," says Jessica Tracy, a psychology researcher at the University of California-Davis. "It's a huge part of a lot of what we do, basically because we're self-conscious. We're constantly thinking about the good and bad things we do and how these things make us feel about ourselves. Those feelings are basically pride and shame. So knowing whether or not we express these feelings to others and how others perceive that—basically how we communicate our pride—is really important. It will tell us a lot about human interactions and human behavior."

Tracy and her team looked at whether pride was a visibly recognizable emotion by showing photos of people expressing different emotions to the participants in her study, who were asked to label the emotions and decide which were associated with pride. "The goal is to find out whether pride is associated with a recognizable non-verbal expression," Tracy explains. "Eventually we'd like to find out if this expression is universal. If we find that it's universal, it might be evolved, and that would suggest that pride might have this evolutionary function of helping people communicate, helping signal that someone is an achieving individual who deserves high status. That will tell us a lot about why we have pride, why we feel pride, and why we express it."

image: Jessica Tracy, UC-Davis
Tracy's experiments showed that between 80 and 90 percent of the participants recognized the prideful poses, whether they got to choose the label "pride" to identify them or not. Here, she describes the typical prideful pose: "First there's a head tilt-back," says Tracy. "Not too much, but just slight. There's a small smile, usually mouth closed, and then—really important—it has this expanded posture element where the chest goes out and the shoulders are pulled back. And the arms can either be at the sides…with hands on the hips, or occasionally raised above the head. We've also found that if arms are crossed at the chest, as long as the chest is expanded, that's also recognized as pride."

Tracy's findings add pride to a small list of emotions that are considered recognizable, including anger, disgust, fear, surprise, happiness and sadness. "The six emotions that we knew had these expressions—only one of them was positive, happiness," she explains. "So researchers have always assumed [that] there's just one positive emotional expression. [But] pride is a positive emotion and people can clearly tell the pride expression apart from the happiness expression. So, that tells us that there's not just a single expression for positive emotions, that pride at least has a distinct expression from happiness and who knows what we’ll find with other positive emotions."

Tracy says another study done in Italy revealed comparable results, suggesting pride expression and recognition may be similar there. Next the researchers are planning to study a remote village of Africa to see if people there show their pride the same way. This research appeared in the March, 2004 issue of Psychological Science and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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