Accurately interpreting other's emotions through facial expressions has important adaptive values for social interactions. However, due to the stereotypical social perception of overweight individuals as carefree, humorous, and light-hearted, the body weight of those with whom we interact may have a systematic influence on our emotion judgment even though it has no relevance to the expressed emotion itself. In this experimental study, we examined the role of body weight in faces on the affective perception of facial expressions. We hypothesized that the weight perceived in a face would bias the assessment of an emotional expression, with overweight faces generally more likely to be perceived as having more positive and less negative expressions than healthy weight faces. Using two-alternative forcedchoice perceptual decision tasks, participants were asked to sort the emotional expressions of overweight and healthy weight facial stimuli that had been gradually morphed across six emotional intensity levels into one of two categories-"neutral vs. happy" (Experiment 1) and "neutral vs. sad" (Experiment 2). As predicted, our results demonstrated that overweight faces were more likely to be categorized as happy (i.e., lower happy decision threshold) and less likely to be categorized as sad (i.e., higher sad decision threshold) compared to healthy weight faces that had the same levels of emotional intensity. The neutral-sad decision threshold shift was negatively correlated with participant's own fear of becoming fat, that is, those without a fear of becoming fat more strongly perceived overweight faces as sad relative to those with a higher fear. These findings demonstrate that the weight of the face systematically influences how its emotional expression is interpreted, suggesting that being overweight may make emotional expressions appear more happy and less sad than they really are.
Oh, Y., Hass, N. C., & Lim, S. L. (2016). Body weight can change how your emotions are perceived. PLoS ONE, 11(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166753