Facial Expression Test

Photo: Neil Ryder-Hoos
This activity includes:
- Introduction
- Facial Expression Test
- Discussion Questions

Imagine what life would be like if we had no idea what other people were feeling. While romantic comedies have long relied on crossed signals to entertain us, in the real world it would be a disaster to misread the intentions of an enemy, a lover, or a friend. It would be just as disastrous if those around us never had a clue if we were about to burst into song, weep uncontrollably, or run amok. Emotions reflect our internal motivational states, and our faces mirror these states. Consider this: if you can accurately read the emotional states of others, your chances of forging an alliance, defending yourself from an enemy, and finding a mate all increase significantly.

Although the study of facial expressions and their role in illuminating emotions is not a new question, scientists have taken it up with renewed vigor over the past two decades, as you can see from your text.

In this activity you will be shown a series of twenty-eight facial expressions, one at a time. In each case you will be asked to classify each face as a reflection of the following emotions:

  • Joy

  • Fear

  • Disgust
  • Surprise

  • Anger

  • Sadness

  • Contempt

At the end of the task, your answers will be scored. Save a copy of the results (you may print it or email a copy to yourself), and then return to this page.

>>Take the Test


Discussion Questions:

  1. How well did you do on this task? Were you reasonably accurate across the board, or were you much better at some and much worse at others?

  2. Was there a pattern to your performance? For example, were you more accurate at classifying the negative and threatening emotions such as fear, anger or contempt than the negative but non-threatening emotions of disgust and sadness? How were you at detecting the positive emotions of joy and surprise?

First Name:
Last Name:
Your Email Address:
Your Professor's Email Address:

Web Links:

A more complex version of this experiment has been developed by Saarland University and is available online at:

ZAPS: The Norton Psychology Labs

Norton Gradebook

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Students can track their online quiz scores by setting up their own Student Gradebook.