Thirty photographs depicting diverse emotional expressions were shown to a sample of Melanesian students who were assigned to either a face plus context or face alone condition. Significant differences between the two groups were obtained in a substantial proportion of cases on Schlosberg's Pleasant Unpleasant, and Attention – Rejection scales and the emotional expressions were judged to be appropriate to the context. These findings support the suggestion that the presence or absence of context is an important variable in the judgement of emotional expression and lend credence to the universal process theory.
Research on perception of emotions has consistently illustrated that observers can accurately judge emotions in facial expressions (Ekman, Friesen, & Ellsworth, 1972; Izard, 1971) and that the face conveys important information about emotions being experienced (Ekman & Oster, 1979). In recent years, however, a question of interest has been the relative contributions of facial cues and contextual information to observers' overall judgements. This issue is important for theoretical and methodological reasons. From a theoretical viewpoint, unravelling the determinants of emotion perception would enhance our understanding of the processes of person perception and impression formation and would provide a framework for research on interpersonal communication. On methodological grounds, the researcher's approach to the face versus context issue can influence the type of research procedures used to analyse emotion perception. Specifically, much research in this field has been criticized for use of posed emotional expressions as stimuli for observers to evaluate. Spignesi and Shor (1981) have noted that only one of approximately 25 experimental studies has utilized facial expressions occurring spontaneously in real-life situations.