Perceiving Faces

Florian Bublatzky (Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim, Medical Faculty Mannheim / Heidelberg University, Germany)
Rachael E. Jack (Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK)
Practical information
29 January 2021



With Florian Bublatzky and Rachael Jack

During this symposium, speakers will present new insights on how context (threat / anxiety induction) and culture influence the way we process information conveyed by faces. Each presentation will last 40 minutes and will be followed by 15 minutes of questions.

This symposium will take place online (zoom) on Friday the 29th of January, from 14:00 to 16:00.

Zoom link:
ID meeting : 912 2480 2566
Password: 000537

Questions? please contact me at:

Please find below the abstracts of the presentations.

14h-15h: Person perception as a function of verbal threat and safety learning

Florian Bublatzky, Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim, Medical Faculty Mannheim / Heidelberg University, Germany

To beware of a particular person or situation, we do not necessarily need to have had negative experiences with them. Aversive anticipations, as triggered by social communication, have been shown to reliably activate physiological defense mechanisms. However, very little is known about how instructional learning modulates face and person perception. This talk summarizes recent studies focusing on the mutual impact of verbal and facial information on threat and safety learning (acquisition, reversal, and extinction learning). Three main questions are addressed: (1) How effective is facial information in cueing instructed threat or safety? (2) To what degree is face processing modulated by aversive anticipation during sustained contextual threat? (3) To what extent can social factors facilitate the extinction of threat associations? As aversive anticipations can be amazingly persistent – even when the aversive outcomes are never experienced – the implications for a range of anxiety disorders are evident.

15h-16h: Understanding facial expression communication across cultures using data-driven methods

Rachael E. Jack, Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Understanding how facial expressions communicate social messages has remained a central question for over a century. However, this is empirically challenging due to their complexity with traditional, theory-driven approaches and Western-centric biases restricting understanding. New technologies and data-driven methods now alleviate these constraints, giving real traction and delivering novel insights. Here, I will showcase one such approach that can objectively and precisely model dynamic facial expressions within and across cultures. We show that four, not six, core expressive patterns are cross-cultural, and that facial expressions transmit information in an evolving, broad-to-specific structure over time. Our work challenges longstanding beliefs of cultural universality and forms the basis of a new theoretical framework. Finally, we show direct transference of our dynamic facial expression models to the digital economy including generative signalling models for digital agents. Such applications present new opportunities for Psychology to play a central role in designing new technologies.