To what extent is the recognition of sad faces and its influence on the perceived need for social support shaped by pupil size?

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The unconscious perception of pupil size as a form of emotional stimuli which may contribute to the recognition of sadness is an evolving field of research. Unconsciously perceived stimuli are of special interest as they may influence certain behavioural responses. With respect to sadness, such a response might be the willingness to offer social support. The present study therefore aimed to examine the extent to which pupil size facilitates the recognition of sadness and whether small or big pupils would lead to a greater willingness to provide social support to a person shown on a photo. Answers to these questions were sought by means of an experiment with 30 respondents in a 2 (pupil size: big / small; emotional facial expression: sad / neutral) x 2 (emotion recognition; perceived need for support) within-subjects design. Participants were shown a set of 24 photos, for each of which they had to identify the depicted emotion and the extent to which they believed the person is in need of support. The current study did not find a significant effect of pupil size on either emotion recognition or perceived need for support. However, participants rated the perceived need for support significantly higher when they unconsciously perceived sad as opposed to neutral facial expressions. This field of research might, for instance, have implications for the employment of subliminal priming as a marketing technique or for the further devlopment of technology’s emotional intelligence.
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