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.
Charlie 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 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.
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!