On Ekman And Friesen, and methodological critiques.

Jim Coan put out a long post on Negative Psychology the other night.

Others can comment and debate the rest of it, but one thing caught my eye, in his defense of perhaps wild, not methodologically sound work that we admire, and that was Ekman and Friesen’s early work.

My eyebrows kind of arched here, as this is something I have followed for a long time.

The Ekman/Friesen work and its legacy is part of a very very long standing psychological conflict, which you can find echoing in publications to this day. It is every bit as acrimonious as the current social psychology skirmish, and rumour has it that Ekman and Russell cannot be in the same room. The conflict breaks down – roughly – between the categorical/universals and the Dimensional, with Russell being the proponent of the dimensional and Ekman the categorical. Neither view was new when they were debating this in the 90’s. Darwin’s book on expression is very categorical (and the methods he used rather similar to what was used by Ekman). Ekman came out of Silvan Tomkins work on rehabilitating the importance of emotion. The dimensional account was present with Schlossberg, and Osgood and Suchi in the 40’s and 50’s. (Emotion Review had an interesting account by Phoebe Ellsworth on the beginnings of Ekmans pancultural research, and which faces were used).

As I was reading these accounts for my graduate research, it was clear that neither the dimensional nor the categorical won. Both theories are very useful conceptualizations, depending on what you look at. I always felt that Russell didn’t quite have the evidence on his side (which could possibly be because it was not yet clear how to find good evidence – or could be because I started out with a more categorical conceptualization), but I always thought he did a good job poking at the areas of weakness in the categorical/universal account. Also, Alan Fridlund aimed very pointed critique towards Ekman in accounts that I’m very sympathetic towards, but held the echoes of an unspoken conflict in their writing.

This is very much the idea that Hull says when he says:

Scientists rarely refute their own pet hypotheses, especially after they have appeared in print, ut that is all right. Their fellow scientists will be happy to expose these hypotheses to sever testing.

These days, it is not so much Ekman and Russell, but Feldman-Barrett (for the dimension side) against – I don’t know. It seems that outside the emotion researchers the categorical has taken hold as canonical, but inside there is a much more nuanced view. Point is, that the articles about this are still dripping with the conflict, derogating straw-persons of the opposite view, to the point that I actually have a very hard time reading the articles because I get too upset. My firm belief is still that both views are important, and perhaps there is a need for a different kind of conceptualization – more dynamical – which I think in part is out there.

In his intro, David Hull speaks of the science myths that are used to give evidence for some kind of scientific practice, and how, as they are myths (that is not true) cannot be used as actual evidence for how science is done.
The Wallace-Friesen is undergoing, to this day, the same kind of negative psychology that Jim goes against. It just has not been done in social media. It was done in articles and books, and the conflict is evident.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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2 Responses to On Ekman And Friesen, and methodological critiques.

  1. James A. Russell says:

    Don’t believe every rumour you hear. “Ekman and Russell cannot be in the same room”?? Years ago, I attended Paul Ekman’s weekly seminar series held in a small room in his Human Interaction Lab. In a few weeks, Paul will be in Boston, and he and I are planning to get together for a drink.
    Jim Russell

  2. asehelene says:

    Thank you so much for coming by and setting the rumour mill straight! How excellent! (And, just let me say, I enjoy both of your papers so so so much, and I’m now ready to go all “I’m not worthy”)

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