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Amplification in the evaluation of multiple emotional expressions over time


Social interactions are dynamic and unfold over time. To make sense of social interactions, people must aggregate sequential information into summary, global evaluations. But how do people do this? Here, to address this question, we conducted nine studies (N = 1,583) using a diverse set of stimuli. Our focus was a central aspect of social interaction—namely, the evaluation of others’ emotional responses. The results suggest that when aggregating sequences of images and videos expressing varying degrees of emotion, perceivers overestimate the sequence’s average emotional intensity. This tendency for overestimation is driven by stronger memory of more emotional expressions. A computational model supports this account and shows that amplification cannot be explained only by nonlinear perception of individual exemplars. Our results demonstrate an amplification effect in the perception of sequential emotional information, which may have implications for the many types of social interactions that involve repeated emotion estimation.

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Fig. 1: Structure and results of Studies 1–4.
Fig. 2: Results from the similarity analysis in Study 8 (N = 100).
Fig. 3: The difference between post-ratings and continuous ratings for the three types of videos in Study 9 (N = 565): neutral, negative and positive.

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Data availability

The data for Studies 1–8 are available at The data for Study 9 are available at

Code availability

The code for the analysis of Studies 1–8 is available at The code for the tasks can be found at


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J.S. is supported in part by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Promotionsförderung der Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) and in part by NIH grant no. 1R01MH112560-01. D.C.O. is supported in part by a Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 grant. T.F.B. is supported in part by NSF CAREER grant no. BCS-1653457. Finally, M.M.R. is supported by the National Research Service Award fellowship from the National Institute of Health no. 1F32MH127823-01. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.G., J.S. and Z.H. conceived and designed the experiments. A.G. and J.S. performed the experiments (Studies 1–8), analysed the data for these experiments and wrote the paper. D.C.O. and J.Z. designed and ran Study 9, and D.C.O. provided an initial analysis of the data. D.C.O. and J.Z. reviewed the paper. T.F.B. and M.M.R. analysed the data of Study 8, conducted the computational model of that study and reviewed the paper. D.L., T.D.S. and J.J.G. were involved in writing and reviewing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Amit Goldenberg.

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The authors declare no competing interests. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks Raoul Bell and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Goldenberg, A., Schöne, J., Huang, Z. et al. Amplification in the evaluation of multiple emotional expressions over time. Nat Hum Behav 6, 1408–1416 (2022).

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