A new study suggests that people from different cultures read facial expressions differently.
East Asian participants in the study focused mostly on the eyes, but those from the West scanned the whole face. In the research carried out by a team from Glasgow University, East Asian observers found it more difficult to distinguish some facial expressions. The work published in Current Biology journal challenges the idea facial expressions are universally understood. In the study, East Asians were more likely than Westerners to read the expression for “fear” as “surprise”, and “disgust” as “anger”. The researchers say the confusion arises because people from different cultural groups observe different parts of the face when interpreting expression.
The researchers used eye movement trackers to monitor where the participants were looking when interpreting the expressions. A funny detail they showed is related to the use of emoticons in emails and chat. There are clear differences between Asian emoticons and those from the West. The Eastern emoticons are not only the right way up but focus on the eyes, whilst in the West the mouth is important. See the table below: