Developing a sensitive new tool that reveals individual differences in facial emotion perception

Project: Research council

Project Details


We use facial expressions to communicate our emotions but there are large differences in how people react to these expressions. At its most severe, failures to respond appropriately to emotional expressions are associated with many clinical conditions. For example, people with high anxiety often report that what other people perceive as neutral expressions appear threatening to them. Critically, the reason why these expressions look different to certain individuals remains unknown. Without this knowledge, it is very difficult to develop targeted and effective therapies for people suffering, for example, from anxiety or other disorders. The aim of this project is to understand why some people are unable to correctly respond to, or identify, particular emotional expressions, and how this relates to indicators of psychiatric risk.

We have recently created a unique toolkit that allows us to measure how emotional expressions look to different people. We will use our toolkit to allow individuals to create the facial expressions that they associate with particular emotions. These individualised emotional expressions will allow us to understand the basis of individual differences in emotional expression perception and how they are associated with psychiatric risk indicators. We will establish if these evolved expressions improve current clinical and pre-clinical tests of "emotional processing" using standard, pre-validated tasks. The result of this work will be an improved understanding of how emotional expressions are interpreted in typical and atypical populations, new tools for better characterization of individuals at risk of psychiatric disorders, and therefore the potential for more precise diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.
Effective start/end date1/07/1931/03/23

Collaborative partners


  • MRC


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