Professor Jennifer Fugate consults with Malcolm Gladwell on his latest book.

Gladwell reached out to Fugate because of her research and her expertise in not only emotion and facial perception, but also because of her expertise in FACS, a tool for measuring facial expressions.

The first time Malcolm Gladwell called Psychology Professor Jennifer Fugate, she accidentally hung up on him. Thankfully, Fugate called him back. Since that call, she’s been consulting with him on his newest book, Talking With Strangers. “From what I know, Gladwell’s book is a story about how we all arrive at impressions of other people, including their innocence and guilt,” Fugate said.

Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist based in New York, has authored several bestsellers, including Blink: The Power of Thinking Without, which was used as a UMass Dartmouth First-Year English reading project for incoming freshmen in 2011.

Fugate is an expert in measuring facial expressions

Gladwell reached out to Fugate because of her research and her expertise in not only emotion and facial perception, but also because of her expertise in FACS, a tool for measuring facial expressions.

“It's not every day that one of the world's most prolific authors contacts you for your expertise. I can say that I was deeply humbled to have the opportunity to work with Malcolm on his latest book,” she said. “We spoke several times about his new book, its major theme, and how the skills I have as a certified Facial Action Coding System (FACS) coder could help him elucidate his point about how we make determinations of a person's guilt based on the cues they provide us.”

Research on how language affects emotion perception and judgments of emotion

FACS is a system for describing all observable facial movement, and it breaks down facial expressions into individual components of muscle movement. Many famous emotion researchers use this system and these movements as indicators that an emotion has occurred. Some researchers believe that when you smile, you are happy. Some scientists believe that if you frown, then you are sad. Fugate thinks differently.

“I am a certified-FACS coder, but I am also unique in that I warn against using anatomically-based movements as indicators that a discrete emotion has occurred,” Fugate said. “I ascribe to a view in which emotions are constructed when a person uses his or her experience and language to make meaning of more basic "cues" in his or her environment.  I say "cues" and not "signals" because they contribute to the categories of perception but do not define them.”

Fugate, who joined the UMass Dartmouth psychology department in 2012, focuses much of her research on how language affects emotion perception and judgments of emotion. “What I study is what our brains are doing cognitively- behind the scenes- during a very quick moment of emotion perception,” Fugate said. “It turns out it's not as easy as reading someone's face to know what they are feeling or whether they are innocent or guilty because a person's face, tone of voice, and bodily cues are far from diagnostic.”


College of Arts and Sciences, Faculty