Memory for Emotional Expressions

The current studies showed that perceptual memory for emotional facial expressions was biased by the specific emotion concepts used at encoding. This biasing effect occurred for not only the relatively rare and artificial angry-happy blends, but also the most frequently reported angry-sad emotion blends. The degree of bias depended on how the expression was conceptualized by the perceiver, and it was found that the effect was the strongest when facial expressions were explained by the perceiver, instead of just being given the labels. Furthermore, the biasing effect fully emerged only when comparing people’s recognition judgment with their own subjective midpoints.

Critical response & logical reasoning The current experiments have important implications for our daily life. They help us to understand the interaction of language, memory and emotion processing, as well as the nature and function of emotional expressions. Most important of all, they help us to understand human beings’ social information processing based on their perception and memories of emotional interactions.

However, the present research has a few weaknesses. Firstly, recognition and midpoint judgments in the experiments were malleable. They are easily influenced by participants’ differences in perceptual memory, emotional state, sex and culture. In the present experiments, most participants were females and all participants were studying in the same University. The variety in the subject pool is narrow. Therefore, it is suggested that increasing variety of the subject pool can increase the validity of the present research.

Secondly, the number of types of facial emotional expressions tested was small. In the present experiments, only two facial emotional expressions, namely angry-happy and angry-sad, were tested. The generalizability of the present research can be raised by testing more types of facial emotional expressions, such as angry-disgust and happy-sad. Thirdly, the current experiments do not find out whether there is any difference between featural decomposition and configural decomposition in biasing the perceptual memory for emotional expressions.

In Experiment 1, two-thirds of the participants explain the facial expression through configural decomposition while the rest explain through featual decomposition. A more direct test is needed to find out whether the ways participants explain facial emotional expressions and the specific content of their explanations have any significance in biasing. To conclude, the present research contributes much in our understanding of human beings’ social information processing. However, further researches can be conducted to increase the validity and generalizability of the research.


Halberstadt, Jamin B. and Niedenthal, Paula M. (2001). Effects of Emotion Concepts on Perceptual Memory for Emotional Expressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81 (4), 581-598.

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