Tag Archives: Emotion

‘The Emotional Eye: Red Sclera as a Uniquely Human Cue of Emotion’ – Commentary

When I came across this paper by Provine et al. (2013), I wanted to write about the content the way I usually do, i.e., describe what was done and the main conclusions that were drawn. However, I soon found myself making notes more about the form than the content, criticising the paper. The authors investigated the effect of reddening the sclera of one or two eyes in photographs. They presented their participants with the images and asked them to rate them according six basic emotions (“anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, and surprise”, p. 994).

First of all, I find the title of this article a tad misleading. It lacks a key word, in my opinion, and that is “valence”. The main finding presented is that the red sclera in humans seems to be a cue of emotional valence, rather than simply a cue of emotionality, indicating whether the emotion displayed is negative or positive (respectively, associated positively and negatively with “increased conjunctival blood flow”, p. 996).

Besides, the “uniquely human” aspect of the association between sclera colour and emotion was actually not addressed in the research; it was merely explained in the introduction. Again, I don’t think that it was incorrect to include the phrase in the title – it is partly what attracted me to download the article – but misleading.

Why these emotions and not others?

Onto the Introduction. Having a psychology background, I cannot fail to notice the lack of citations at the point where the authors list the six emotions they included in their study. They are ignoring a massive amount of research on emotions and the associated facial expressions. Even naming just one study by the famous Paul Ekman would have sufficed to show that they did not just pull these categories of emotions out of nowhere, and that they are giving credit where credit is due.

There is also no mention of either actual or possible gender differences in the perception of facial expressions of emotions. I think it is problematic as gender is later bluntly presented as an intergroup factor in the data analysis, yet the reason for its inclusion is not explained.

According to the Methods, the researchers used a pen and paper survey to collect data. I wonder whether they had trouble. In my experience, participants can be somewhat annoyed and tell you about errything that is wrong with the choices you made.

Alright, now for the Discussion. For the most part, I enjoyed it. Except maybe for what some might consider nit-picking; I say it is proper spelling.

A classic.

In this word, u is a consonant, not a vowel.

And finally…

...bootlicking much?

…bootlicking much?

Of course, it is not to say that Provine et al. (2013) is not a good article. I just enjoy pointing out shortcomings in other people’s work because it makes me feel better about myself ;^).

Follow-up on “Can you identify dogs’ emotions from their facial expressions?”

Last April, I published a post about dog’s facial expressions and how humans tend to be able to correctly classify the emotions they convey.

I included 2 photographs of my own dog, Charlie, each of them portraying him in a different condition. I used procedures to induce emotional states that were either positive or negative. Then I asked readers to rate the pictures in terms of the emotions they perceived were expressed.

Here are the method I used and the results of the ratings.

charlie1charlie2Charlie was asked to sit and stay put. He was then presented with an object – a treat (dog biscuit) to induce positive emotions, like happiness and interest, or a pair of tweezers (that I use to pull hair out from between his teeth and gum) to induce negative ones, like fear or sadness.

The photos were taken almost immediately after object presentation. The first on the left corresponds to the positive condition, whereas the second on the right corresponds to the negative condition.

Now, what did the respondents think?

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m amazed at how many responses I got: 94 in total!

Figure 1. Number of responses per emotion rating scale point

Figure 1. Number of responses per emotion rating scale point

Figure 1 demonstrates an overall floor effect – most responses were situated at the lower extreme of the rating scales. I seems like people found it easier to declare that a given emotion was absent rather than say they perceived one. This makes sense since I was not looking to elicit strong emotions. Had I done that, the responses might have been more equally distributed.

Figure 2. Basic emotion ratings in each of the conditions.

Figure 2. Basic emotion ratings in each of the conditions (sorry for the missing error bars – I could not add them without not messing up the graph).

The results show that, in both cases, people perceived Charlie to feel happy, sad, surprised, and fearful (Figure 2). This is interesting because it suggests that his face displays a mix of those emotions regardless of how he feels, as if his idiosyncratic facial features are always evocative of them like a human’s can be. Of course, a simplest explanation would be that the mildness of his affective state made it difficult to identify the emotion.

The major difference between the 2 conditions seems to lie in the 5th basic emotion – no one in the positive condition thought that Charlie felt angry.

Perhaps an element of his facial expression differed distinctly between the photos. If so, I’d say it was his ears. They either face forward or pulled back depending on the valence of the presented stimulus, i.e., positive or negative.

For a methodologically flawed little questionnaire, I think it yielded pretty interesting results. Thank you to all who rated!

Can you identify dogs’ emotions from their facial expressions?

Have you ever wondered what our canine friends think, or rather, feel? Being capable to recognise dogs’ emotions would surely be a useful ability, whether you are an owner concerned with you pet’s well-being or have an interest in avoiding being bitten by dogs in general. Do you believe to possess such an ability?

Source: MemeCenter

Researchers in the Unites States (Bloom & Friedman, 2013) found that humans can, in fact, classify rather accurately “the emotions conveyed by photographs of facial expressions of a dog”.

Even people with little to no experience with dogs could do that. The fact that learning was found to influence results only a little suggests that we might have somewhat of an inherent ability to recognise emotions in dogs. It is indeed possible that, during the domestication process, humans selected dogs whose affective states were more easily recognisable.

Bloom and Friedman partly drew from psychology and the affective sciences to develop their experiment, namely the work of the famous Paul Ekman (on whom the TV show ‘Lie to Me’ was based) and his colleagues. They created seven “behaviorally defined” scenarios to induce seven emotional states in the participating dog – happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and neutral, which served as a control condition for comparisons.

Inspired by their methods, I attempted to replicate two of those conditions. Below are the photographs thus obtained, accompanied by emotionality rating scales for each of the six basic emotions.

What I want YOU to do (yes, you, the person reading this post right now) is to rate the photographs. Each of them may contain one emotion or mixed emotions. Report what emotions, if any, you perceive as present, and to what degree. There is no right or wrong answer. You should choose only one option out of the five available for each emotion.



I am very curious to see how you guys interpret the facial expressions of my dog Charlie! In a future post, I will make sure to reveal the scenarios I used as well as the emotion I hoped to thus induce.



Bloom, T., & Friedman, H. (2013). Classifying dogs’ (Canis familiaris) facial expressions from photographs. Behavioural Processes. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2013.02.010