Asian Faces and emotions

How Universal is Psychology?

Decision making mechanisms that are supposed to be universal -including the famous biases by Kahneman et al.- might be expressed differently across culture. The vast majority of research on DM is carried out in western countries and many times in specific subpopulations. Even for phenomena that seem to even apply to rural tribes, it might be that the methodology used somehow nudges the choices of the participants.

A typical example could be the expressions of emotions. The dominant theory is that at least some facial emotions (fear, happiness) are universal. This was based on early research  that found that even members of tribes will categorize a facial emotion as happy, angry etc. in a similar way westerners do. Yet, it seems that the original research by Ekman forced the choices to these six categories. A recent research that asked participants to categorize emotions at will found out that the “prototypical” categorization quickly collapsed, with different categories appearing (see

This example clearly demonstrate the problems that linguistic references create when one is doing research across cultures.

To that end we examine how the tools of cognitive neuroscience – which could largely be non-linguistic- could be used for a more objective assessment of human cognition.

We study these questions with a special focus on SE Asia – a largely unexplored part of the world.

The related paper is under review – we hope it will soon be published so we can give more answers!