Frowning Makes it Seem Harder
Michel, Kathryn R.
Peabody College of Education & Human DevelopmentMuch research has been devoted to understanding and identifying facial expressions and their significance. In this study we attempt to evaluate the significance of the eye-brow frown, and specifically to test the hypothesis that, in part, the eyebrow frown signals the perception of goal-obstacles. For this experiment, we explicitly manipulated subjects' frowning in addition to a control facial movement with no associated emotion and a second control involving a requested facial action with no associated emotion. We then asked participants to complete a modified Stroop task in which they identified the colors in which words associated with the following categories were presented: pleasantness, unpleasantness, high obstacle, high effort, and neutral (i.e., low obstacle/low effort). Our hypothesis is that subjects in the eyebrow frown, but not the other conditions, will take longer to react to high obstacle and unpleasant words relative to the other word categories due to the fact that the meaning of these words are more accessible to the participants because they have been primed by the eyebrow frown, and that this will interfere with the subjects' ability to respond to the words' color. Essentially, brow-furrowing increases the perception that the task at hand is more difficult (i.e., has more obstacles associated with it), than it really is. Our results demonstrate that there are statistically significant results for the unpleasant category of words in the brow condition compared to the lip and control conditions. Also, there is somewhat promising evidence that obstacle is implicated in the brow condition compared to the lip and control conditions as well. This suggests that brow furrowing may prime certain appraisals related to unpleasant-type words.