Emotion in the neutral face: A mechanism for impression formation?

Reginald B. Adams, Anthony J. Nelson, José A. Soto, Ursula Hess, Robert E. Kleck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The current work examined contributions of emotion-resembling facial cues to impression formation. There exist common facial cues that make people look emotional, male or female, and from which we derive personality inferences. We first conducted a Pilot Study to assess these effects. We found that neutral female versus neutral male faces were rated as more submissive, affiliative, naïve, honest, cooperative, babyish, fearful, happy, and less angry than neutral male faces. In our Primary Study, we then "warped" these same neutral faces over their corresponding anger and fear displays so the resultant facial appearance cues now structurally resembled emotion while retaining a neutral visage (e.g., no wrinkles, furrows, creases, etc.). The gender effects found in the Pilot Study were replicated in the Primary Study, suggesting clear stereotype-driven impressions. Critically, ratings of the neutral-over-fear warps versus neutral-over-anger warps also revealed a profile similar to the gender-based ratings, revealing perceptually driven impressions directly attributable to emotion overgeneralisation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-441
Number of pages11
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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