You Are What You Emote: Gendered Connotations of Facial Expressions Impact Sexual Orientation Judgments
Tabak, Joshua A.
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Emotional facial expressions - facial expressions such as smiles or frowns that are typically associated with emotions - convey more than just sentiment. Many emotional facial expressions are stereotyped as masculine or feminine. Here, I demonstrated that gendered connotations of emotional facial expressions explain how emotional facial expressions modulate our perceptions of others' sexual orientation. I found that feminine emotional facial expressions (e.g., smiles) make men's faces look more gay (Experiments 1, 2, 3, and 5), feminine emotional facial expressions (e.g., smiles) make women's faces look more straight (Experiment 4), and masculine emotional facial expressions (e.g., anger) make men's faces appear more straight (Experiment 3). Moreover, the effects of emotional facial expression were not the same for all faces, they were context-dependent - the effects depended on the masculinity/femininity context provided by the rest of the face. For instance, straight and gay men's faces looked more gay when smiling (vs. neutral), but the effect was greater in the context of straight men's faces than in the context of gay men's faces. Similarly, smiling made men's faces appear more gay, but the effect was greater in the context of Black men's faces than White men's faces due to the greater perceived masculinity of Black faces. Five experiments showed that something as impermanent as a smile influences perceptions of something as important and personal as sexual orientation. Moreover, the magnitude of effects of emotional facial expressions differed depending upon information conveyed by the rest of the face - the context in which the emotional facial expressions resided. The data further indicated that stereotypes of gender atypicality may substantially drive how others' sexual orientation is judged. Altogether, the results suggest that, at least in the eye of the beholder, you are what you emote.
- Psychology