Preference Development Research
Facial Electromyography (EMG)
Certain facial muscles are associated with self- and other-reported emotional responses. For example, pulling one’s cheeks toward one’s ears into a smile is (unsurprisingly) associated with liking and positive emotion. However, many times these muscle reactions are too small to be noticed by observers or felt by participants. EMG allows researchers to measure these minute electrical changes in muscle activation. Best of all, EMG is safe and doesn't hurt!
In the Preference Development Lab, we have used EMG as a measure of positive emotion, negative emotion, and disgust in response to faces and other objects. For example, Dr. Principe sought to test whether the stereotypes for attractive and unattractive faces were associated with physiological changes in emotion. He found that both 7- to 10-year-olds and adults showed less negative affect and disgust to human faces that are rated as attractive compared to those that are rated as unattractive.
Dr. Principe was also interested in testing two theories on the origins of attractiveness preferences. He showed adults pictures of human faces that had been morphed into chimpanzee faces. Although these morphed faces were rated as very unattractive, he found that participants who viewed these photos had a) more positive affect to faces that were morphed with chimps compared to faces that were 100% human and b) more positive affect than participants who viewed human faces only. These results suggest that experience determines facial attractiveness preferences rather than an innate beauty-detecting template.
Currently, the PDL is using EMG to compare adolescents' emotional reactions to faces versus non-face objects as they mature to continue to test whether reactions to facial attractiveness significantly differ from those to non-face objects across the lifespan. Click here if you or someone you know is interested in participating.
Principe, C. P., & Langlois, J. H. (2013). Children and adults use attractiveness as a social cue in real people and avatars. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115, 590-597. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.12.002
Principe, C. P., Rosen, L. H., Taylor-Partridge, T. & Langlois, J. H. (2013). Attractiveness differences between twins predicts evaluations of self and co-twin. Self and Identity, 12, 186-200. doi: 10.1080/15298868.2012.655895
Rosen, L. H., Principe, C. P., & Langlois, J. H. (2013). Feedback seeking in early adolescence: Self-enhancement or self-verification? The Journal of Early Adolescence, 33, 363-377. doi: 10.1177/027243161244107
Principe, C. P., & Langlois, J. H. (2012). Shifting the prototype: Experience with faces influences affective and attractiveness preferences. Social Cognition, 30(1), 109-120. doi: 10.1521/soco.2012.30.1.109
Rew, L., Principe, C., & Hannah, D. (2012). Changes in stress and coping during late childhood and preadolescence. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 25, 130-140. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6171.2012.00336.x