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Faking faces: psychopathic traits and feigned emotional expressions

Faculty Advisor




psychopathic traits, facial expressions, emotions

Abstract (summary)

The purpose of this study was to determine what effect psychopathic traits have on the ability to express both genuine and feigned emotional expressions through a detailed analysis of facial characteristics of emotion. Despite the wide array of research on psychopathic traits and emotional dysfunction, most studies have focused on recognition rather than expression of emotion. Participants (n = 121) were assessed for psychopathic traits and randomly assigned into a feigned or genuine emotional condition, and asked to display each of the six core emotions (i.e., happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust, and sadness). Each face was then coded for the presence of facial musculature action units using a standardized coding system. Results indicated that those feigned group produced more authentic facial expressions than their genuine counterparts. Limited main effects were found related to psychopathy and overall facial expressions; however, interesting patterns of specific action units were noted. Specifically, those high in psychopathic traits engaged in more authentic and pronounced expressions of specific facial musculature movements in some emotional expressions (i.e., fear and disgust). Implications concerning methods of coding, emotion induction, and facial affective mimicry are discussed.

Publication Information


Presented on April 24, 2017 at Student Research Day held at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.

Item Type

Undergraduate Thesis




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