Evidence for distinct contribution of form and motion information to the recognition of emotions from body gestures

A.P. Atkinson, M.L. Tunstall, W. Dittrich

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    130 Citations (Scopus)


    The importance of kinematics in emotion perception from body movement has been widely demonstrated. Evidence also suggests that the perception of biological motion relies to some extent on information about spatial and spatiotemporal form, yet the contribution of such form-related cues to emotion perception remains unclear. This study reports, for the first time, the relative effects on emotion recognition of inverting and motion-reversing patch-light compared to fully illuminated displays of whole-body emotion gestures. Inverting the gesture movies or playing them backwards significantly impaired emotion classification accuracy, but did so more for patch-light displays than for identical but fully illuminated movement sequences. This result suggests that inversion impairs the processing of form information related to the configuration of body parts, and reversal impairs the sequencing of form changes, more than these manipulations impair the processing of kinematic cues. This effect was strongest for inversion, suggesting an important role for configural information in emotion recognition. Nevertheless, even in combination these stimulus manipulations did not abolish above chance recognition of any of the emotions, suggesting that kinematics help distinguish emotions expressed by body gestures. Disproportionate impairments in recognition accuracy were observed for fear and disgust under inversion, and for fear under motion reversal, suggesting a greater role for form-related cues in the perception of these emotions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)59-72
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • Emotion recognition
    • biological motion
    • body movement
    • body gestures
    • configural cues


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