Recognizing facial expression of virtual agents, synthetic faces, and human faces: the effects of age and character type on emotion recognition
Beer, Jenay Michelle
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An agent's facial expression may communicate emotive state to users both young and old. The ability to recognize emotions has been shown to differ with age, with older adults more commonly misidentifying the facial emotions of anger, fear, and sadness. This research study examined whether emotion recognition of facial expressions differed between different types of on-screen agents, and between age groups. Three on-screen characters were compared: a human, a synthetic human, and a virtual agent. In this study 42 younger (age 28-28) and 42 older (age 65-85) adults completed an emotion recognition task with static pictures of the characters demonstrating four basic emotions (anger, fear, happiness, and sadness) and neutral. The human face resulted in the highest proportion match, followed by the synthetic human, then the virtual agent with the lowest proportion match. Both the human and synthetic human faces resulted in age-related differences for the emotions anger, fear, sadness, and neutral, with younger adults showing higher proportion match. The virtual agent showed age-related differences for the emotions anger, fear, happiness, and neutral, with younger adults showing higher proportion match. The data analysis and interpretation of the present study differed from previous work by utilizing two unique approaches to understanding emotion recognition. First, misattributions participants made when identifying emotion were investigated. Second, a similarity index of the feature placement between any two virtual agent emotions was calculated, suggesting that emotions were commonly misattributed as other emotions similar in appearance. Overall, these results suggest that age-related differences transcend human faces to other types of on-screen characters, and differences between older and younger adults in emotion recognition may be further explained by perceptual discrimination between two emotions of similar feature appearance.