Is there a unison in the interpretation of primary emotions? Is the expression of primary emotions like happiness, sadness, shock, excitement, culturally uniform? The body language and facial expression that follow emotions, are they uniform in all regions of the universe or is there an ambiguity? If not, aren't the film industries in trouble?

  • After your first question, you seem mainly concerned with the expression, culturally uniform or not, of primary emotions. This strikes me as mainly a psychological matter. Does 'intepretation' in your first question suggest something more or other than a psychological angle ? It may do. I am not trying to criticise, merely to get clear about what you are asking philosophicallly about the primary emotions.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 22, 2017 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


The work of Paul Ekman on depictions of facial actions for studying emotion was the gold standard for many years, and lent a lot of credence to the hypothesis that human expressions were universal, regardless of culture. Recently, the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett (et al), has upended this hypothesis, causing her to state in a Guardian article that: "Research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion." A general take on how she came to this conclusion is laid out in the article The Secret History Of Emotions, and links to many of her academic articles and other pieces on the web are available from her website. Basically, her experiments and meta-analyses of the literature have shown that the classical view of emotions are a fiction.

What does this mean for the film industries? Not much, for the moment. As our perceptions of emotions are part and parcel of a social construct, and have been for so long that they appear to be intuitive, the construct itself would have to suffer quite a blow, and social behavior (and knowledge of what emotions actually are) would have to be altered drastically for it to effect the film industry in any meaningful way. We should really feel sympathy towards the taxpayer, more than the moviegoer. That "the U.S. Transportation Security Administration spent nearly a billion dollars training airport security agents to detect signs of deception in airline passengers"? Ouch.

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