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The Recognition of Cross-Cultural Emotional Faces Is Affected by Intensity and Ethnicity in a Japanese Sample


Human faces convey a range of emotions and psychobiological signals that support social interactions. Multiple factors potentially mediate the facial expressions of emotions across cultures. To further determine the mechanisms underlying human emotion recognition in a complex and ecological environment, we hypothesized that both behavioral and neurophysiological measures would be influenced by stimuli ethnicity (Japanese, Caucasian) in the context of ambiguous emotional expressions (mid-happy, angry). We assessed the neurophysiological and behavioral responses of neurotypical Japanese adults (N = 27, 13 males) involved in a facial expression recognition task. Results uncover an interaction between universal and culturally-driven mechanisms. No differences in behavioral responses are found between male and female participants, male and female faces, and neutral Japanese versus Caucasian faces. However, Caucasian ambiguous emotional expressions which require more energy-consuming processing, as highlighted by neurophysiological results of the Arousal Index, were judged more accurately than Japanese ones. Additionally, a differential Frontal Asymmetry Index in neuronal activation, the signature of an approach versus avoidance response, is found in male participants according to the gender and emotional valence of the stimuli.

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