More than Words? Semantic Emotion Labels Boost Context Effects on Faces

Maya Lecker, Hillel Aviezer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Semantic emotional labels can influence the recognition of isolated facial expressions. However, it is unknown if labels also influence the susceptibility of facial expressions to context. To examine this, participants categorized expressive faces presented with emotionally congruent or incongruent bodies, serving as context. Face-body composites were presented together, aligned in their natural form, or spatially misaligned with the head shifted horizontally beside the body—a condition known to reduce the contextual impact of the body on the face. Critically, participants responded either by choosing emotion labels or by perceptually matching the target expression with expression probes. The results show a label dominance effect: Face-body congruency effects were larger with semantic labels than with perceptual expression matching, indicating that facial expressions are more prone to contextual influence when categorized with emotion labels, an effect only found when faces and bodies were aligned. These findings suggest that the role of conceptual language in face-body context effects may be larger than previously assumed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)163-170
Number of pages8
JournalAffective science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Context effects
  • Emotion recognition
  • Facial expressions
  • Semantic labels

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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