Distinct facial expressions represent pain and pleasure across cultures

Date

2018-10-08

Advisors

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.

Type

Article

Peer reviewed

Yes

Abstract

Real-world studies show that the facial expressions produced during pain and orgasm—two different and intense affective experiences—are virtually indistinguishable. However, this finding is counterintuitive, because facial expressions are widely considered to be a powerful tool for social interaction. Consequently, debate continues as to whether the facial expressions of these extreme positive and negative affective states serve a communicative function. Here, we address this debate from a novel angle by modeling the mental representations of dynamic facial expressions of pain and orgasm in 40 observers in each of two cultures (Western, East Asian) using a data-driven method. Using a complementary approach of machine learning, an information-theoretic analysis, and a human perceptual discrimination task, we show that mental representations of pain and orgasm are physically and perceptually distinct in each culture. Cross-cultural comparisons also revealed that pain is represented by similar face movements across cultures, whereas orgasm showed distinct cultural accents. Together, our data show that mental representations of the facial expressions of pain and orgasm are distinct, which questions their nondiagnosticity and instead suggests they could be used for communicative purposes. Our results also highlight the potential role of cultural and perceptual factors in shaping the mental representation of these facial expressions. We discuss new research directions to further explore their relationship to the production of facial expressions.

Description

open access article

Keywords

pain, orgasm, facial expressions, culture, data-driven methods

Citation

Chen, C., Crivelli, C., Garrod, O. G. B., Schyns, P. G., Fernández-Dols, J. M., and Jack, R. E. (2018) Distinct facial expressions represent pain and pleasure across cultures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 115(43), pp. E10013-E10021.

Rights

Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science