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Whole body expressions are among the main visual stimulus categories that are naturally associated with faces and the neuroscientific investigation of how body expressions are processed has entered the research agenda this last decade. Humans are considered to be among the most social species and there are only limited moments during which we are not interacting with conspecifics, either face to face or more indirectly for instance on the telephone.
Here we describe the stimulus set of whole body expressions termed the bodily expressive action stimulus test (BEAST), and we provide validation data for use of these materials by the community of emotion researchers. Forty-six non-professional actors (31 female) were recruited through announcements at Tilburg University. Bonferroni corrected paired-sample t-tests were performed on the number of incorrect responses to investigate whether the intended target emotion was systematically confused with one specific non-target response alternative. To investigate whether the variability of judgments for the different emotions represent variations, we transformed the stimulus categorizations to accuracies and calculated for every emotion the SD.
To investigate the extent to which the different stimuli expressing the same emotion inter-correlated, we computed for every emotion the Cronbach’s alpha as a measure of internal consistency. To investigate inter-individual differences in emotion recognition, we correlated recognition performances for the four emotion categories over subjects.
We constructed a database of 254 face-blurred whole body expressions, consisting of 46 actors expressing 4 basic emotions that can be recognized without information conveyed by the facial expression (anger, fear, happiness, and sadness) and asked participants to categorize the emotions expressed in the stimuli in a four alternative-forced-choice task. Analysis of the incorrect categorizations reveals that anger is more often confused with happiness than with sadness and that fear is more confused with anger and happiness than with sadness. Finally, we found no significant across subject correlations in emotion categorization accuracy, indicating there are no significant inter-individual differences in the recognition of whole body expressions. Explicit recognition has been tested in normal populations, in clinical populations with autism, with schizophrenia, and in individuals with prosopagnosia.
Furthermore, the stimuli have been used in experiments using composite stimuli or combinations of a bodily expression with another source of affective information, either visual or auditory. The BEAST is a valuable addition to currently available tools for assessing recognition of affective information.
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Jan Van den Stock is a post-doctoral researcher for the Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - Vlaanderen. This means that you will not need to remember your user name and password in the future and you will be able to login with the account you choose to sync, with the click of a button. This page doesn't support Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8.Please upgrade your browser or activate Google Chrome Frame to improve your experience. Here we describe the stimulus set of whole body expressions termed bodily expressive action stimulus test (BEAST), and we provide validation data for use of these materials by the community of emotion researchers. As we routinely take part in a wide range of heterogeneous social interactions on a daily basis, interpreting the intentions and emotions of others has significant adaptive value. All 254 stimuli were randomly presented one by one for 4000 ms with a 4000-ms inter-stimulus interval during which a blank screen was presented. The total number of data points added up to 4826 (19 subjects each rating 254 stimuli), of which 10 were missing values. Number and percentage of responses according to emotion expressed in the stimulus category. The results are displayed in Table 2 and show that the variability is highest for happiness, followed by fear, anger, and sadness.
The results are displayed in Table 2 and show acceptable values for all emotions, except for fear.


The results show that all emotions are well recognized, with sadness being the easiest, followed by fear, whereas happiness was the most difficult. It is remarkable that bodily expressions with opposite valence are more confused than expressions with similar valence. Face emotion studies have shown differences in spontaneous and voluntary emotional expressions (Zuckerman et al., 1976). This means that the performance of individual subjects compared to the other subjects on for example categorization of angry whole body expressions is not systematically associated with performance on categorization of fearful, happy, or sad whole body expressions. The stimulus set has also proven useful for investigating high anxiety subjects (Kret and de Gelder, under review) and violent offenders (Kret and de Gelder, under review).
Implicit recognition of these bodily emotion expressions was tested in a few cases of V1 lesion that leads to clinical blindness and of hemispatial neglect associated with inattention to contralesional stimuli. Visual contexts that have been explored include facial expressions and environmental or social scenes (Van den Stock et al., under review). As has already been illustrated it can be used in explicit recognition tasks as well as in implicit ones, when combined with facial expressions or affective prosody and this in healthy subjects as well as in neurological and psychiatric populations. The database was composed of 254 whole body expressions from 46 actors expressing 4 emotions (anger, fear, happiness, and sadness). In the most influential emotion models, emotions are considered more than emotional feelings and additionally include action components (Frijda, 1986; Damasio, 2000). Additionally, to enhance motivation, actors were competing for providing the best recognized expressions and the winner received an iPod.
The participants were instructed to categorize the emotion expressed in the whole body stimulus on an answering sheet in a four alternative-forced-choice task (anger, fear, happiness, sadness). The same pattern is reported for (non-exaggerated) static body expressions in a study by Atkinson et al. Furthermore, the actors in were instructed and motivated to express highly recognizable emotions. It shows that subjects are heterogeneous in the emotional category they recognize better than others. Besides behavioral measures, EEG, MEG, and fMRI have been used to investigate the neurofunctional basis in normal and in abnormal populations.
Implicit recognition was also investigated in normal subjects with the use of a masking paradigm (Stienen and de Gelder, 2011). Fear fosters flight: a mechanism for fear contagion when perceiving emotion expressed by a whole body. In all pictures the face of the actor was blurred and participants were asked to categorize the emotions expressed in the stimuli in a four alternative-forced-choice task. One of the leading emotion theories was proposed by Frijda (1986) and it capitalizes on the function of emotions as action related mechanisms.
Pictures were taken against a white background and under controlled lightening conditions in a professional photo studio with a digital camera mounted on a static tripod.
We calculated the frequency of every response alternative for every stimulus condition and constructed a confusion matrix on the basis of this analysis (see Table 1). It was also our experience during the construction of the body expression stimuli that happiness is most difficult to properly instruct as well as to perform by the actors, whereas facial expressions of happiness are very easy to instruct and perform. This does not necessarily correspond to how we express emotions in daily life and might have induced exaggerated emotional expressions. Useful information was also collected from EMG measurements and from eye movement recordings. Finally, a computational model for body expression recognition was developed (Schindler et al., 2008).


Orienting to threat: faster localization of fearful facial expressions and body postures revealed by saccadic eye movements.
Actors were individually instructed in a standardized procedure to display four expressions (anger, fear, happiness, and sadness) with the whole body, and the instructions provided a few specific and representative daily event scenarios typically associated with each emotion. Duration of the first and second block was around 30 min per block and 100 pictures were presented in both blocks. The convergence between the results of both studies may point to a priori differences in recognisability of bodily emotions, although the findings are influenced by task variables.
However, by presenting the actors with real life scenarios, we made an attempt to increase the ecological validity of the expressions.
Spared ability to recognise fear from static and moving whole-body cues following bilateral amygdala damage. The BEAST appears a valuable addition to currently available tools for assessing recognition of affective signals.
Although the focus of emotion perception research in affective neuroscience has so far been primarily on how we perceive, process, and recognize facial expressions, the theories and concepts proposed by Frijda push the envelope towards a more ambitious research instrumentarium and necessitates to move beyond investigating perception of facial expressions.
In a recent study we avoided the use of verbal labels by presenting stimuli from the same database in a simultaneous match-to-sample paradigm and found that fearful expressions were the most difficult to match (Van den Stock et al., 2007).
It can be used in explicit recognition tasks as well as in matching tasks and in implicit tasks, combined either with facial expressions, with affective prosody, or presented with affective pictures as context in healthy subjects as well as in clinical populations. Indeed, in our natural environment, faces are not perceived in isolation and usually co-occur with a wide variety of visual, auditory, olfactory, somatosensory, and gustatory stimuli. We did not include other emotions like disgust at this stage, because a pilot study indicated these were hard to recognize without information conveyed by the face. Fifteen-minute breaks were inserted between blocks, adding up to a total duration of about 120 min for the whole validation experiment. The discrepancy in the results of these studies indicates that different processes underlie verbal labeling and matching of whole body expressions.
Emotion perception from dynamic and static body expressions in point-light and full-light displays.
Recent progress in uncovering the networks involved in the perception of bodies and bodily expressions.
Based on the photographer’s impression of the expressiveness of the posture, in a few instances more than one picture of the same actor and expression was taken in order to enrich the total set and allow for small variations in expressiveness that may prove useful for one or another design. A possible explanation may be that, next to the emotional processing involved in both tasks, verbal labeling relies more on language processes and idiosyncratic semantic knowledge about features in whole body expressions (for instance that anger is associated with clenched fists), whereas matching relies more on correspondence of features between stimuli.
The finding that fearful body expressions are hardest to match then indicates that this expression is more ambiguous (Van den Stock et al., 2007). That stimulus set consists of 10 identities (5 women) displaying whole body expressions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness) in full light and point light displays.
The bodily postures were generated by actors who had been given the instruction to express each emotion with their whole body.
In developing the present stimulus set, our goal was to emphasize the action dimension of whole body expressions rather than the pure expression of inner feelings and to relate it to specific context in which the emotion expressing actions are appropriate.



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