15 May

Test Your Social Intelligence!

This study done by Kyrzystof Gajos’ lab at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University tests the social intelligence of each participant using images of just the eyes of people’s faces.  The participant must guess what emotion the eyes are showing.  Gajos claims that with this study, his lab is “trying to understand how the ability to recognize emotions of others vary across cultures.”  Is it potentially problematic that all the faces in the experiment are Caucasian faces?  Does the use of make-up (on woman’s faces) help or hurt the validity of the results?  What do you think?


Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Test Your Social Intelligence!

  1. laurenkchow

    May 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

    A friend of mine posted this on facebook the other day and I thought the exact same thing!! I wonder how people’s scores might change if the faces included people of color, since I’ve seen a study before (can’t find the link at the moment sorry) that showed that white people empathize less with characters of color in tv shows/books/etc or something, meaning people might also find emotions harder to read?

    Also, it was a little suspicious that the choices for the faces with makeup were things like “desiring” or “seductive” whereas one of them that was followed by (what looked like) a man’s eyes had “insisting” as one of the choices!!

  2. Nikki

    May 22, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with that point, and I’d also mention that the words were SO gendered.

  3. victoriadan

    May 23, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I think that the choice of images was highly questionable, too. I felt like there was a greater array of extremes in the expressions of men compared to those of women. Does everyone see the same set of faces? Because if an alien’s first exposure to humans consisted of those photos, it would think that women are incapable of moving their eyebrows or eyelid muscles. I wonder if this plays into the sort of docile or sexual characteristics that generally get assigned to women, who are seen as being more subtle and suggesting in their mannerisms.

    Going back to your question of race and culture, I think the researcher is trying to capture the cultural diversity of RESPONDENTS who respond to a specifically white facial expressions (I would use italics, but I have to opt for caps–I’m not shouting at anyone, I promise). I had to read the claim twice to understand that, because I also thought that the researchers meant a diversity among the faces being evaluated. The goal is to see if people from different cultural backgrounds identify expressions similarly or differently.

    • victoriadan

      May 23, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      To clarify, the researchers may have wanted to hold race constant in the photos because it provides a simpler measuring stick. The premise of the project does not include evaluating how people of different backgrounds evaluate faces of multiple ethnicities/races, so adding in “other” faces would complicate the results beyond the broader (or narrower?) goal of the research. Then the researchers would have to look at how Cambodians view Venezuelans, Ugandans to Swedes, etc. I do agree that a more race-focused approached could yield very interesting results, and I could see this study as being seminal to more in-depth studies.


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