It is a known fact that there are six primary emotions everybody is capable of feeling. Those are happiness, fear, sadness, anger, surprise, and disgust. Subsequently, we express each of these emotions using more or less the same set of facial movements. It makes recognising these emotions very easy. The person’s background and credentials then hardly matter.
However, Barrett delved in more to explore new layers of this surface-level experiment. She, with Maria Gendron and a few other members, went on to The Himba. It is a tribe with the least influence by the Westerners. The team spent almost two months, paving a path to their research by the day and spending the night atop their cars. The results? She didn’t find any universal emotions in them.
Gendron put forth 36 photos of faces with the basic expressions. She asked the subjects to freely divide the photos into groups with the same expressions. “A universal solution would have six piles labeled with words used for emotions,” said Barrett. “That was not what we recorded.” The experiment saw more than six piles of photos with fewer emotion words to desribe them. When it came to vocalising, interpretation of the same sounds was different by different subjects.
Gendron and Barrett then performed the same experiment in Boston. Then they compared the results they got with those of The Himba tribe. The results, as expected, were very different. Gendron observed that the participants in Boston labeled the expressions with the expected terms. However, they fared better when the words became a part of the task. “This indicates that what we assume to be ‘psychological universals’ may in fact be ‘Western’ cultural categories.”