Research result: Dr. LO Lap Yan – “Relativity of Emotion Perception and New Development of Emotional Expressions Photobank”


This research project, from November 2014 to October 2016, is supported under the Faculty Development Scheme of the Research Grants Council. Dr. LO Lap-yan, Assistant Professor, Department of Counselling & Psychology, is the Principal Investigator of the project.

Dr. LO Lap-yan

The celebrated animation, INSIDE OUT featured five major emotions of human beings, namely Happiness, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. It follows that all these five basic emotion expression (and possibly with an extra emotion expression: surprise) are believed to be completely discrete and equally discriminative.

Although these basic emotion expressions can be thought of as discrete, the interplays of the six emotions are intricate, according to Dr. LO Lap Yan, Assistant Professor of the Department of Counselling and Psychology. For example, disgust and anger can be separate, yet sometimes, intertwined. When we are disgusted by something, we may at the same time, feel angry about it. Another prevalent example is that, the expression of fear is not as discrete as what it was thought to be but it may often be mixed with the expression of surprise, according to part of the findings in this funded research. A possible reason is that both expressions show similar kind of pupil dilation that allows more light/information to be received by the perceiver for preparing the upcoming response. In addition, fear, an emotion which is triggered by a sense of danger, is easier to be distinguished from other emotion facial expressions. The prompt responses to fear may reflect an apprehension of the sign of danger as shown by the companions around you.

“Facial expression photo banks” are not uncommon things on the Internet. To search photos on respective facial expressions is just one-click away. Yet, Dr. LO indicated that these photo banks are neither comprehensive, nor precise. The first reason is that many of these photo banks are not carefully calibrated; the second being that samples are primarily middle-aged caucasians. This situation demanded a photo bank that included faces of young Asian adults. A new free photo bank, PEEYA (http://syucounpsy.wixsite.com/peeya) was therefore developed in this project.

Front page of the free photo bank PEEYA.

“The photos we used in this research project are black-and-white. Because we do not want complexions or accessories of one person, lead to misjudge of his/ her facial expressions due to different emotions.” Dr. LO said. “By providing calibrated photos of Asian’s emotion expressions, we do hope that this photo bank can facilitate students and other researchers who are interested in studying emotion perception and research in other related domains.”

The research project spanned two years. Due to its extensive scale, and it is Dr. LO’s debut of being a principal investigator, when being asked of the challenges in this project, Dr. LO said it is all about how to bridge new findings with the existing theories. Despite the prolonged and challenging process, Dr. LO and his team enjoyed it, because they were synchronised and worked very smoothly. Last but not least, he wants to take the opportunity of the publishing of this research paper, to let more people learn to use the improved facial expression photo bank effectively.

Source: October Issue 2017

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