A multidisciplinary approach to research in small-scale societies: Studying emotions and facial expressions in the field




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Frontiers in Psychology



Peer reviewed



Although cognitive science was multidisciplinary from the start, an under-emphasis on anthropology has left the field with limited research in small-scale, indigenous societies. Neglecting the anthropological perspective is risky, given that once-canonical cognitive science findings have often been shown to be artifacts of enculturation rather than cognitive universals. This imbalance has become more problematic as the increased use of Western theory-driven approaches, many of which assume human uniformity (“universality”), confronts the absence of a robust descriptive base that might provide clarifying or even contrary evidence. We highlight the need for remedies to such shortcomings by suggesting a two-fold methodological shift. First, studies conducted in indigenous societies can benefit by relying on multidisciplinary research groups to diminish ethnocentrism and enhance the quality of the data. Second, studies devised for Western societies can readily be adapted to the changing settings encountered in the field. Here, we provide examples, drawn from the areas of emotion and facial expressions, to illustrate potential solutions to recurrent problems in enhancing the quality of data collection, hypothesis testing, and the interpretation of results.


Open Access article


multidisciplinary approach, indigenous societies, methods, facial expressions, emotion, culture


Crivelli, C., Jarillo, S. and Fridlund, A.J (2016) A Multidisciplinary Approach to Research in Small-Scale Societies: Studying Emotions and Facial Expressions in the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 7:1073


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science