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On Friday, Dr. James A. Russell from Boston College presented students with a surprising challenge to the textbook explanation of facial expressions in connection with emotions. With humor and a remarkable ease about him, Russell analyzed and contradicted many popular and well-known studies on the link between emotions and facial expressions.
“When you read something in a textbook, one of the things you can do is challenge it,” Russell explained to students. Russell then got into his arguments and explained the studies he has conducted. These studies and his thoughts on them contradicted what many Emmanuel psychology students have likely been taught in their courses. Russell explained that there is no solid theory for why we produce faces.
Using examples like weeping from happiness or looking to be in pain during sexual pleasure, Russell laid out his thoughts that oppose most thoughts on facial expressions. For example, if a person were presented with a photo of someone weeping and not given any context, they would guess that the person was sad, which Russell made clear is not always the case.
Russell quoted David Matsumoto, a psychologist, researcher, and author in the field of facial expressions, to describe the theory that there are seven universally expressed and recognized facial expressions of emotion. Russell, however, does not believe in universal recognition.
He argued that facial expressions are often posed during studies. Russell did recognize Paul Ekman, another psychologist famous for his work in Papua New Guinea, studied what he classified as spontaneous expressions. However, Russell still believes that “emotions are not entities that move the face,” based on his own research conducted with Boston College students in lab.
Dr. Russell earned his PhD from the University of California in Los Angeles and he proceeded to teach at the University of British Columbia for twenty five years. His research has focused on studying emotions and he is known for his development of the Psychological Construction of Emotion framework. His work has appeared in over 150 publications.