Judith Hall


The ability to recognize human emotions is a nonverbal communication skill that is necessary for survival. Current research results are mixed, with some studies indicating that human emotions can be recognized automatically, while other studies suggest that recognizing emotions is a cognitive process that requires effort. This present study examined if the ability to recognize human emotions would be impaired by the following conditions: a cognitive load condition and an environmental distraction condition. This study used a within-subjects design, so all 72 participants completed five emotion recognition tasks involving photographs of emotional facial expressions, silent video of emotional facial or body movements, or content-masked vocal expressions of emotions. The results of this study showed that while there were significant effects of the environmental distraction condition when completing one of the facial emotions tasks F(2, 63)= 5.71, p=.005, this effect was not generalized to any of the other tasks. Additionally, the cognitive load condition did not have a significant effect on any of the emotion recognition tasks. The lack of difficulty that participants had completing the emotion recognition tests under various conditions lends support to the evolutionary account of the recognition of human emotions.

Date Accepted


Publication Date



emotion, cognition

Degree Grantor

Northeastern University

Rights Holder

Sandra Rago

Click button above to open, or right-click to save.