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How do People Understand Emotions?

What’s the one thing all people have in common? We all have emotions. And while it can be difficult to tell exactly how someone is feeling, we all have access to reading people’s faces. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you display and understand emotions through your voice, body language, facial expression, and actions.
Elevate AI offers software that supports you in the arduous task of deciphering what the person you are talking to is feeling.

According to Emotion and Adaptation–first published in 1991 by the American psychologist Richard Lazarus–it is possible to have a theory of emotion.

Lazarus has been a pioneer in this field for the past 40 years. He argues that emotions have intentionality and that their significance and force are determined by our cognition. This then creates a judgment as to whether or not we can cope with the external event or situation, which forms an emotional reaction.

TLDR: Emotions matter and you need to take emotional responses into consideration.


An illustration of the brain thinking complexly.

The Role of the Brain

So, what’s happening in the brain when we experience emotions? We’ll get into the weeds later on in this article. First, let’s get some technical terms out of the way:

  1. Amygdala: A central part of the limbic system. It has been recognized in brain-injured patients as central to identifying emotions in others’ faces. So far, we’ve observed that it is used when identifying fear, sadness, and anger (Workman & Reader, 2015).
  2. Orbitofrontal cortex: Vital in many higher-order functions such as reasoning, processing language, and even consciousness. If damaged, it dramatically changes personality and emotional responses (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Finally, before leaving the physiology behind, it is worth noting that the brain is also underpinned by complex chemical activity. Our emotional responses are entirely driven by hormones such as adrenalin (epinephrine), testosterone, and cortisol. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to emotions.


An illustration of diversity

Cultural Influences

So the brain is important, but what about culture? Have you thought that the cultural environment you are in also determines the way you feel emotions and how you expressed them? If you think about it, the culture you live in is the main reason why sometimes it’s hard to empathize emotionally with people from other countries or other generations. 

We learn how to perceive the world through the eyes of our unique cultures. Babies “socially smile” because they learn it from their caregivers. The main difference we see between cultures in terms of emotions is actually emotional intensity. It has been observed that Western culture tends to be more exaggerated emotionally than Eastern culture.

Richard E. Porter, Larry A. Samovar, and Edwin McDaniel give us a clue about these cultural influences in their book Communication between cultures (2016) because they show us that:

There are at least six primary emotions­­­—anger, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, and happiness—which are usually considered to be physiologically based and expressed similarly across cultures. Secondary emotions, such as pride, guilt, and shame arise culturally through participation in the socio-cultural environment and tend to vary based on age, gender, and culture. Intercultural communication examines the situation in which a message is encoded in one culture for consumption in another culture.

This psychologist brings to consideration the following cultural aspects that influence the managing emotions in every different culture and geographic space:

  1. Display rules
  2. Antecedent events
  3. Individual-collectivism and power distance
  4. Context
  5. Nonverbal communication
  6. Language

As you can see, people understand emotions partly based on the general human experience but also based on the cultural configuration that gives life to emotions and the way we all experience them.

So understanding others’ emotions is a multifaceted and difficult task. The good news is that through AI, we can better understand emotions and make adjustments that will benefit everyone. 


How Artificial Neural Networks & AI Analyze Facial Expressions

Artificial Neural Networks & Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the perfect combo to analyze and give insights in video meetings. A tool that is especially helpful in group environments when you don’t have the time to pay attention to everyone and gauge their responses individually or cumulatively… but exactly how does that work? We’ve got you covered. 

An illustration of a neural network and emotions like happiness, anger, sadness, and fear.

What are Artificial Neural Networks?

Artificial neural networks (ANNs) is a subfield of machine learning within the research domain of artificial intelligence”-Steven Walczak 

So ANNs are designed to function like the human brain. (Fun fact: They work in patterns similar to how the human brain works!)

How do ANNs Work with AI? 

“Artificial intelligence (AI), is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience”.

B.J. Copeland
A quote from B.J. Copeland on how AI and NNs relate

We train ANNs with datasets and then use the ANN to analyze new inputs. At Elevate, we use edge-AI. That’s AI that computes as close as possible to the device being used. In most cases, that’s your desktop, laptop, or phone. In some cases, edge-AI can even be implemented directly on robots, watches, cars, and more. Our edge-AI uses computer vision and an ANN to analyze.


Why Edge-AI is Better for Emotion Analysis

Edge-AI is rising in popularity for emotion analysis for three very good reasons:

  1. It is cheaper for the end-user (no expensive cloud APIs)
  2. Secure and private data (input images don’t need to be stored anyway)
  3. Instant results (live analysis without delay)

Our Edge-AI is powerful, affordable, secure, private, and instant because we believe that connecting with others shouldn’t be difficult.


Limitations of AI Emotion Analysis

AI Emotion Analysis doesn’t come without limitations. Artificial intelligence in general is a relatively new and emerging field of study with a lot of room to grow. (In 1990 could you even imagine being able to use something like TikTok on a “phone”? We’d bet not!)

An illustration of three people connecting online.

The Depth of Emotional Responses

The main limitation of AI emotion analysis is the depth of accuracy of “in-between” emotions. Elevate aims to make space for mixed emotions by analyzing 8 core emotions–neutral, happy, surprised, sad, angry, scared, disgusted, and contempt–as well as mixed between them. We acknowledge that emotions are not black and white. You can be happy and surprised, sad and angry. People are complex and so are our emotions.

Cloaked Emotions, Sarcasm, and Outlier Responses

Have you ever put on a smile to hold back anger? Have you ever been so annoyed that you laugh? Or so happy that you cry?

We know you have, but that’s how people work. We all want to be in control of our emotions and how we present them. We’re all guilty of nodding our heads and half-paying attention during that 4 pm Friday meeting.

AI Emotion Analysis isn’t necessarily capable of understanding cloaked emotions, sarcasm, or outlier responses. That’s because the algorithms are trained on datasets that don’t always have a strong representation of these responses. That being said, as the field continued to grow, accuracy in these areas improves.

In summary, AI is modeled after how people think. If you have trouble understanding something, AI does too.


an illustration of a man balancing between emotions. On the left, a yellow happy face is elevated. On the right, a red angry face is tipping the scale downwards.

Why Emotions Matter

Emotions are so important to the human experience. How we feel has a big impact on our productivity, dedication, attention, and room to grow. Meeting emotional needs is imperative. It is time to put people first, especially as society continues to shift to remote education, work, and more. We are distant from each other and need to understand each other better today. Feeling connected helps everyone grow together. 


References

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