1996 volume 25(6) pages 727 – 738

Cite as:
Dittrich W H, Troscianko T, Lea S E G, Morgan D, 1996, "Perception of emotion from dynamic point-light displays represented in dance" Perception 25(6) 727 – 738

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Perception of emotion from dynamic point-light displays represented in dance

Winand H Dittrich, Tom Troscianko, Stephen E G Lea, Dawn Morgan

Received 30 October 1995, in revised form 6 March 1996

Abstract. It is well known that biological motion, as produced by point-light displays on a human body, gives a good representation of the represented body -- eg its gender and the nature of the task which it is engaged in. The question is whether it is possible to judge the emotional state of a human body from motion information alone. An ability to make this kind of judgment may imply that people are able to perceive emotion from patterns of movement without having to compute the detailed shape first. Subjects were shown brief video clips of two trained dancers (one male, one female). The dancers were aiming to convey the following emotions: fear, anger, grief, joy, surprise, and disgust. The video clips protrayed fully lit scenes and point-light scenes, with thirteen small points of light attached to the body of each dancer. Half the stimuli were presented the right way up, while half were inverted. The subjects' task was to judge whichemotion was being portrayed. Full-body clips gave good recognition of emotionality (88% correct), but the results for upright biological-motion displays were also significantly above chance (63% correct). Inversion of the display reduced biological-motion (but not full-body) performance to close to chance but still significantly above chance. A space - time analysis of themotion of the points of light was carried out, and was related to the discriminability of the different emotions. Biological-motion displays, which convey no information while static, are able to give a rich description of the subject matter, including the ability to judge emotional state. This ability is disrupted when the image is inverted.

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