A remote tribe in northeast Cambodia were crucial participants in a new study that concludes the way our bodies express emotions is universal, rather than dictated by the cultures in which we are raised.
The work of four American psychologists, the finding is soon to be published in scientific journal Emotion. In order to conduct their research, the researchers required participants left largely untouched by outside influences.
Their search led them to the village of L’ak in Ratanakkiri province, home to approximately 300 ethnic Kreung tribe members. The Kreung’s homeland is only accessible by outsiders during the dry season and their language is dissimilar both to Khmer and that of other indigenous tribes, making them a perfect control group.
The psychologists attached light-sensing balls to the limbs of a Kreung tribesman renowned for his traditional music and dance performances. He was then filmed and asked to act out anger, disgust, fear happiness and sadness.
The resulting video was then stripped down to just the balls on a black background, which was then shown to participants in the US who were asked to guess what emotions were being expressed by the movement of the balls.
The experiment was then reversed, with a video of an American performer’s light balls shown to villagers in L’ak. In both tests, participants correctly guessed the emotions performed with what researchers described as “above chance” accuracy.
The researchers concluded that this was because “signals of emotions” are “shaped and constrained by factors universal to all humans, including basic human needs, social intelligence, and psychology”.