Perceiving emotions accurately is the underpinning of social communication. In recognizing emotions, one must understand a complex, dynamic set of cues in people’s facial expressions, body movements, and vocal tones. When these skills are well-developed, individuals are more effective at home, at work, and in their communities. Historically, emotion perception research has focused on either macro-expressions or micro-expressions. Macro-expressions are overt, stereotypic facial expressions that prominently convey emotions, whereas micro-expressions are rapid, nearly undetectable facial movements that involuntarily reveal emotional reactions. A team of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania developed a novel way to assess individuals’ emotion perception ability that diverges from the dominant approaches.
Developed by Drs. Matthew LaPalme, Sigal Barsade, Marc Brackett, and James Floman, the Meso-Expression Test (MET) represents a significant advancement in the assessment of emotional intelligence abilities. The test expands upon existing methods by focusing on measuring “meso-expressions” – a term coined by the authors. Meso-expressions include subtle, realistic facial expressions and non-verbal vocal cues that occur when people naturally communicate their emotions. The researchers suggest that meso-expressions better match the emotional displays that people commonly perceive in everyday life. The test also was developed with demographically diverse individuals to increase representation, which is rare in the field. Taken together, the MET has the potential to contribute to a better understanding of how people recognize emotions and could aid in developing interventions that promote improved emotion perception.
Although the research showcases an exciting leap forward in assessing emotional intelligence abilities, the research team also acknowledges certain research limitations. The current study provides only limited evidence of the MET’s predictive validity, meaning its association with real-world outcomes of interest, such as with empathy and relationship satisfaction. More research is needed to determine the extent to which recognizing meso-expressions is related to relevant and meaningful outcomes at work, home, and in one’s daily life (e.g., job performance).
The MET serves as an enduring part of Dr. Sigal Barsade’s legacy. Dr. Barsade was an assistant professor at Yale’s School of Management before joining the Wharton School of Management’s faculty. She was a pioneer in the study of emotions at work. Throughout her career, she made important contributions to the study of emotions and laid the groundwork for research on the effects of emotions in the workplace that continues to flourish today. In 2022, at 57, Dr. Barsade passed away after a brief but challenging struggle with glioblastoma.
As researchers continue to explore the complexities of human interaction, the MET emerges as a promising tool for assessing emotion perception, offering a new lens to determine how individuals decipher emotions in one other. The MET has the capability to significantly enhance the quality of information measured about emotion perception ability, and in turn, to be a meaningful tool for researchers and practitioners.