“It’s almost like tasting an amazing dessert and having a look of pain on your face. It’s like, ‘Ugh, that was good,’” said Oriana Aragón, an assistant professor of marketing at Clemson University. Aragón’s research focuses on dimorphous expressions, or expressions of emotion that seem at odds with what a person is actually feeling. Think of an athlete breaking down in tears after winning a championship game, or when a person sees a cute baby and declares that they want to eat its toes.
In a recent study, Aragón (who was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University at the time of the research) and Yale psychology professor John Bargh looked at why these seemingly contradictory expressions occur. Study participants looked at images of tennis players expressing emotion after either winning or losing an important match, and were asked to imagine themselves in the same scenario: How would they feel? And, separately, how would they react? The subjects were also asked to report how they felt or reacted during their own personal experiences of happiness or sadness, and how they perceived other people expressing those emotions.