Andrea Hildebrandt, Werner Sommer, Annekathrin Schacht and Oliver Wilhelm

Perceiving and remembering emotional facial expressions—A basic facet of emotional intelligence.


Decoding the meaning of facial expressions is a major pathway of human communication and has been extensively studied as a basic facet of emotional intelligence. In order to better understand the structure and specificity of the abilities subsumed under emotion decoding from faces (facial emotion perception and facial emotion recognition), the multivariate measurement of individual differences is essential. In the present study, we focused on the abilities to perceive and recognize facial expressions of emotions and investigated their internal structure and nomological net. N = 269 participants with a heterogeneous educational background completed a large test battery including multiple assessment paradigms substantiated in basic experimental research. Results allowed establishing task-general measurement models of facial emotion perception (EP) and recognition (ER). In these measurement models emotion category-related specificity was negligible. The most important conclusion from the present study is the strongly limited specific variance in perceptual performance of certain emotion related facial expressions and emotion decoding from faces in general, relative to face identity processing and fluid cognitive abilities (figural reasoning, working memory and immediate and delayed memory). We discuss implications of the present results for building the nomological net of emotional intelligence and outline desiderata for future research.