The bidirectional relation of emotion perception and social judgments: the effect of witness’ emotion expression on perceptions of moral behaviour and vice versa

The present research tested the notion that emotion expression and context perception are bidirectionally related. Specifically, in two studies focusing on moral violations (N = 288) and positive moral deviations (N = 245) respectively, we presented participants with short vignettes describing behaviours that were either (im)moral, (in)polite or unusual together with a picture of the emotional reaction of a person who supposedly had been a witness to the event. Participants rated both the emotional reactions observed and their own moral appraisal of the situation described. In both studies, we found that situational context influenced how emotional reactions to this context were rated and in turn, the emotional expression shown in reaction to a situation influenced the appraisal of the situation. That is, neither the moral events nor the emotion expressions were judged in an absolute fashion. Rather, the perception of one also depended on the other.