My broad program of research includes basic and applied work on emotion and the expression of emotion, evolutionarily driven work on the communicative functions of facial expressions, and clinical work on emotional and mood disorders.

My aim is to answer basic, functional, and applied research questions in the areas of emotion, evolutionary psychology, and clinical psychology. What are the most salient characteristics of emotional expression? What are the communicative functions of facial expressions? In what ways do expressions of emotion influence the behavioral responses of others? How do the emotions and the expressions of emotion differ in individuals suffering from emotional and mood disorders?


Facial Expressions of Emotion

How are emotions expressed through facial behavior and in what ways can these expressions be quantified?
My basic research aimed to determine which characteristics of facial expressions are most salient in emotion and communication. Most research on facial expression has tried to show that expressions are characterized by configurations of facial muscles; my research has shown that expressions are also characterized by changes in configuration over time. We found that these timing characteristics are stereotyped, coordinated with other modes of communication, and typical of behavioral adaptations. For example, we found that even among smiles of similar configuration, the correlation of movement among individual features has an impact on their communicative meaning.

Related Articles:

Multimodal Coordination of Facial Action, Head Rotation, and Eye Motion During Spontaneous Smiles
- Proceedings of the Sixth IEEE International Conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition

Automatic Analysis and Recognitions of Brow Actions and Head Motion in Spontaneous Facial Behavior
- Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics

What are the qualitative differences in the innervation of deliberate and spontaneous expressions of emotion?
Reliability and deception are key aspects of signaling behaviors. Regarding facial expressions, we have focused primarily on smiles. Our data suggests that deliberate smiles differ from spontaneous smiles in both timing and intensity. More specifically, spontaneous smiles have greater onset and offset speeds, as well as greater intensities. Additionally, these differences in timing and configuration affect whether receivers perceive these smiles as amused, polite, or embarrassed. These results show that smiles are reliable signals of genuine positive affect.

Related Articles:

Movement Differences Between Deliberate and Spontaneous Facial Expressions: Zygomaticus Major Action in Smiling
- Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

Timing Characteristics of Two Different Facial Signals: Deliberate and Spontaneous Smiles
- American Journal of Physical Anthropology

All Smiles Are Not Created Equal: Morphology and Timing of Smiles Perceived as Amused, Polite, and Embarrassed/Nervous
- Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

In what ways are the expressions of emotion affected by mood?
Previous research suggests that individuals suffering from depression respond to stimuli intended to elicit positive emotion with attenuated responses reflective of anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable activities). In the examination of the timing characteristics of smiles, we found that individuals who were currently depressed responded with two separate expressions. The initial response to positive stimuli was a spontaneous smile representative of genuine positive affect. Interestingly, these initial spontaneous smiles were quickly overridden by deliberately produced negative expressions. By examining the dynamic characteristics of emotional responses, we interpreted these affective shifts not simply as diminished positive affect, but also as an attempt to maintain negative self-serving biases in response to strong positive stimuli.

Related Article:

Impact of Depression on Response to Comedy: A Dynamic Facial Coding Analysis
- Journal of Abnormal Psychology

What are the communicative functions of facial expressions of emotion?

While my basic work sought to explain the ways in which (i.e., how) expressions of emotion unfold in varying contexts, a large focus of my research aims to explain the functions of emotional expressions and why they exist. I recently conducted a study examining the relationship between participants’ specific facial expressions of emotion during promises of cooperation prior to playing a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma is a well-researched economic game involving two or more players commonly used to model and examine cooperative behavior. Using a modified version allowing for communication, I found evidence that smiles expressed during promises function as honest signals of cooperative intent. More specifically, I showed that cooperative individuals were a) more likely to express genuine smiles and b) more often predicted to behave cooperatively by their partners.

In addition to promises, I am also interested in threats. A recent publication examined players’ behavioral responses to threats accompanied with either neutral or angry facial expressions in an ultimatum game, in which two players have to decide how to divide a sum of money between them. The data suggest that proposers make higher offers to responders whose threats are accompanied with angry expressions in comparison to neutral expressions. Taken together, these findings shed light on the information encoded and decoded in facial expressions as well as their relation to behavior.

Related Articles:

Facial Expressions as Honest Signals of Cooperative Intent in a One-Shot Anonymous Prisoner’s Dilemma Game
- Evolution and Human Behavior

The Commitment Function of Angry Facial Expressions
- Psychological Science


Disorders of Emotion

In what ways do emotional experiences unfold over time in Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has been conceptualized within the clinical literature as a disorder of emotion. Patients suffering from BPD often complain of difficulty regulating intense emotional reactions. As such, studying these patients can provide insight into the ways in which emotions function in clinical populations.

My work has focused on both their interpersonal functioning as well as the development of positive and negative affective states over time. In contrast to the view that the core symptoms associated with BPD are pervasive and long-lasting, this work has shown that the frequency and severity of borderline specific dysphoric affective states decreases over time while the frequency of positive affective states increases over time. In addition to other longitudinal studies on BPD, my work suggests that borderline patients frequently recover, showing good psychosocial and vocational functioning over time.

Related Articles:

Anger, Preoccupied Attachment, and Domain Disorganization in Borderline Personality Disorder
- Journal of Personality Disorders

The Role of Attachment Styles and Interpersonal Problems in Self-Injurious Behaviors
- Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior

The Course of Positive Affective and Cognitive States in Borderline Personality Disorder: A 10-Year Follow-Up Study
- Personality and Mental Health

The Course of Dysphoric Affective and Cognitive States in Borderline Personality Disorder: A 10-Year Follow-Up Study
- Psychiatry Research

The Relationship Between Childhood-Adversity and Dysphoric Inner States Among Borderline Patients Followed Prospectively for 10 Years
- Journal of Personality Disorders

Positive Affective and Cognitive States in Borderline Personality Disorder
- Journal of Personality Disorders