Reading the Face: Translating Science to Security

November 30th, 2012
2-4pm, Raytheon Amphitheater, Northeastern University

A symposium focused on applying current research in
emotion perception, specifically as detectable (or not) from facial
expressions, to concerns in global security (e.g., efforts to detect

Jon Freeman, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College. Dr. Freeman’s research focuses on the neural mechanisms of person perceptions — the processes by which the brain extracts information from facial, vocal, and bodily cues.

“Hidden” Emotion Categories: The Social‒Sensory Interface Underlying Person Perception

When we encounter another person, we are simultaneously exposed to multiple categories (e.g., emotion, sex, race), the sight of a face and body more broadly, and often the sound of a voice. To this encounter, we also bring our own social expectations and high-level cognitive states (e.g., motivation, prejudice). How, then, from all this input do we so rapidly perceive other people’s emotions? I will discuss research using neuroimaging, real-time hand movements, and computational simulations to understand this uniquely rich person perception process. Based on converging findings, a neural network model of person perception will be described. It treats person perceptions as the end-result of multiple bottom-up sensory cues and top-down social factors interacting and “compromising” over time. Although through this process perceivers eventually stabilize onto clear-cut emotion categories, both sensory factors (e.g. subtle facial cues) and social factors (e.g., stereotypes) can lead alternate emotion categories to partially activate in parallel. These “hidden” emotion-category activations may have important implications for issues in global security. More broadly, the implications of the social‒sensory interface underlying emotion perception will be discussed.

Philippe Schyns, Head of School and Professor of Psychology at University of Glasgow. Dr. Schyns’ research focuses on the information processing mechanisms of face, object, and scene categorization in the brain.

Transmitting and Decoding Facial Expressions of Emotion

The face expresses a number of signals that the brain can code within a few hundred milliseconds. Amongst these, facial expressions of emotion have been of particular biological importance for the survival of the species. Here, I will discuss the state‐of‐the‐art on the understanding of what information in the face represents each one of the six basic facial expressions of emotion (i.e. happy, surprise, fear, disgust, anger and sadness). We will then review the dynamics of cortical coding of this information, both from event related potentials and from oscillatory activity. Finally, I will discuss a new approach that generalises the extraction of information to dynamically rendered three‐ dimensional faces.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, and Director of the Affective Science Institute. Dr. Barrett’s research focuses on neural and psychological processes underlying the construction and perception of emotion.

Reconsidering the Concept of “Emotion Recognition”

When you look at a person’s face, you automatically and effortlessly see someone who is angry, or happy, or afraid.  Such experiences have led to a simple and intuitively appealing hypothesis that informs everything from security training programs to instructional segments on Sesame Street: a person’s intent can be read from facial expressions, regardless of the cultural background or life experiences of the perceiver or the target.  This view is so deeply ingrained that it forms the basis of undergraduate psychology curricula.  In this talk, I will review emerging evidence from laboratory experiments, field studies, lesion studies, and neuroimaging research demonstrating that “emotion recognition” is better understood as “emotion perception” where the knowledge, experience, and context of the perceiver strongly influences whether and which emotions are seen in faces.  I will also consider the implications of these findings for security training programs in the US.

With discussion and commentary by:
Peter DiDomenica, the former Director of Security Policy at Boston Logan International airport, where he developed innovative anti-terrorism programs, including the creation of the behavior-based screening program adopted by the Transportation Security Administration.

This entry was posted in Symposia. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Trackback

  1. By Translating Science to Security, in the News on December 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    [...] science: not quite ready for homeland security?, coverage of the ASI’s recent symposium, Reading the Face: Translating Science to Security. This entry was posted in In the News. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can [...]

  • ASI logo
  • Contact

    Affective Science Institute
    125 Nightingale Hall
    360 Huntington Ave.
    Boston MA 02115-5000

  • Mailing List

    Join our listserv mailing list to receive emails about ASI events. To subscribe, send an email to with the message "subscribe asi_discussion".