A Comment on Vision / Sight

 Making Sense of the World, Several Senses at a Time; Scientific American

Sensory cross talk helps us navigate the world

Seeing What You Hear:

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We can usually differentiate the sights we see and the sounds we hear. But in some cases, the two can be intertwined. During speech perception, our brain integrates information from our ears with that from our eyes. Because this integration happens early in the perceptual process, visual cues influence what we think we are hearing. That is, what we see can actually shape what we “hear.” 

This passage sparked a possible clue as to why Asperger individuals will look briefly at a person’s face, but then look away during conversation, an act that is criticized as a “social crime.”

I can’t claim that all Asperger people are visual thinkers, but many are: What if we avoid looking at faces because our dominant visual sense makes it difficult to hear people correctly? I have often described my “conversational” behavior is to look at a person, including the face, and size them up quickly, and then look away and to carefully listen to what they say. I’m more attentive when listening. My visual sense is so dominant that “looking” is too much distraction.

I’ve frequently noticed that neurotypicals hear what they want to hear; a person will state some fact or opinion that is straightforward and difficult to misinterpret, but the “audience” will immediately distort the message and attack the speaker. It seems to be a treasured neurotypical type of conflict.

American Psychology / Warped Humans, Confirmation Bias

The WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology

 

Does psychology’s over-reliance on American undergraduates distort our image of the human species?

YES.

"Mental Health" by Nathaniel Gold

Imagine that you’re in a room with 100 psychopaths. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is leave that room. However, once you do, you discover a booth installed with one-way glass where you can watch what’s taking place without anyone seeing you. Comfortably seated, you observe a strange experiment taking place. A few of the individuals have on white coats and are carrying around clipboards while most are being run through a battery of psychological tests.

Slowly the frantic activity begins to make sense. Some test subjects are looking at video monitors and have sensors attached that measure their galvanic skin response to the images they see. Others are being given questionnaires to elicit their answers to a variety of social situations. Still others are being placed inside an fMRI scanner to measure the blood flow in different regions of their brains. All of these are standard methods in the psychological and brain sciences. But what’s most striking to you is the fact that this study is being conducted on psychopaths by psychopaths.

“Subjects reported a consistent disregard for the feelings of others and a lack of remorse in cases where they’ve hurt someone,” reported one researcher from his report based on answers from the questionnaire.

“This is consistent with the fMRI results that show significantly less blood flow to the paralimbic system, especially those regions involving emotion,” adds another looking at her analysis of the brain scan data.

“The skin conductance data also agree, showing little or no emotional reaction to violent or disturbing imagery,” reports a third who seems to be the one in charge of this strange experiment.

“These results suggest that the human species is inherently deceitful, antisocial, and has little regard for others,” he says. “Evolution has honed us to be selfish actors interested only in maximizing our individual potential at the expense of everyone else.” The other researchers nod in agreement, for that is certainly what the results show.

From where you sit it’s clear that something is terribly wrong with this study. Because they were only testing psychopaths the researchers’ data may be consistent but it’s only applicable for that one group. However, because the researchers were also part of that group and saw the world in the same way, they made the false assumption that humans everywhere behaved that way too. This is known in the sciences as confirmation bias, preferring conclusions that support someone’s own personal preferences or outlook even when the evidence is weak to nonexistent. This usually happens unconsciously. It’s the tendency we all have to prefer interpretations that support our preexisting beliefs. This is why scientific studies try to get a large and diverse sample size to draw their conclusions from.

Obviously the above example could never happen in real life, but it represents a simplified thought experiment to address a larger question about how research on human cognitive evolution is carried out. What happens if researchers inadvertently fall prey to confirmation bias at a societal level? Would the same false results that affected the hypothetical psychopath study also affect other assumptions about human nature?

Addressing this question psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia (where I am also located) published a paper last year in the journal Behavioral Brain Sciences. Their research documents how most of the studies that psychologists claim show human universals are really just extrapolations from a single social group, the cultural equivalent of the psychopaths in my example. As The New York Times wrote in their review:

According to the study, 68 percent of research subjects in a sample of hundreds of studies in leading psychology journals came from the United States, and 96 percent from Western industrialized nations. Of the American subjects, 67 percent were undergraduates studying psychology — making a randomly selected American undergraduate 4,000 times likelier to be a subject than a random non-Westerner.

The subpopulation that Henrich and colleagues found to be overrepresented are entirely WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) societies. While it’s bad enough that WEIRD American undergraduates are serving as our model for human behavior, what their paper goes on to document should be of concern to all behavioral and cognitive researchers (particularly those whose work focuses on human evolutionary explanations).

When these affluent American and non-Western populations are compared there are important differences in domains as seemingly unrelated as visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, and even the heritability of IQ. In all cases American undergraduates didn’t simply differ, they differed substantially. Nevertheless, they form the basis of most researchers’ assumptions about human nature even though, as Henrich and colleagues conclude, “this particular subpopulation is highly unrepresentative of the species.”

To highlight one domain in which American undergraduates differ from most other populations in the world consider a neutral category like visual perception. Looking at the figure below, which horizontal line, “a” or “b”, would you estimate is longer?

What I have always seen in this type of graphic is that the person who designed it is trying to trick me into seeing that the lines are different lengths, when actually, they are the same.

If you chose “b” than you are in line with a substantial number of Americans (both undergraduates and children) who chose the same one. In fact, both lines are identical in length. This has become known as the Müller-Lyer Illusion, named after the German psychiatrist Franz Carl Müller-Lyer who first discovered it in 1889. However, if you show the same two lines to people in many non-Western societies (particularly hunter-gatherer societies) they will be more likely to identify the two lines as identical. In a series of cross-cultural experiments in 1966 psychologist Marshall H. Segall manipulated the length of line “a” until it reached the point where respondents reported that the two were identical in length. The results of these experiments can be seen in the graph below.

The vertical column represents the Point of Subjective Equality (PSE), or how long line “a” had to be before respondents said they were the same length. In other words, PSE is a measure of how effective the illusion is for different populations. As the graph indicates, Americans (labeled as “Evanston” for where Segall tested undergraduates at Northwestern University in Illinois) were the population most fooled by this illusion and required line “a” to be an average of one-fifth longer than line “b” for both to be perceived as equal. They were followed by white South Africans from Johannesburg. In contrast, the San foragers of the Kalahari were not affected by the illusion while most other societies in the study were only marginally affected.

Why would Americans be so susceptible to this illusion? Our environment. Most Americans are raised in a society where horizontal lines and sharp corners make up much of modern architecture. The brains of American children (and, presumably, most children in highly industrialized countries) have adapted to make optical calibrations as a result of their unique environment. The San and many other small-scale forager or horticultural societies don’t grow up in a manufactured environment so their brains are unaffected by such illusions.

A similar difference can be found in what psychologists call “folkbiological reasoning.” Cognitive scientists testing children drawn from U.S. urban centers (where most universities are located) have developed an influential developmental theory suggesting that there is a cognitive shift that takes place between ages 7 and 10. As Henrich and colleagues state in their paper:

Before age 7, urban children reason about biological phenomena by analogy to, and by extension from, humans. Between ages 7 and 10, urban children undergo a conceptual shift to the adult pattern of viewing humans as one animal among many.

This shift has been considered a process that all human children go through. The problem with this reasoning, Henrich points out, is that it only applies to one subset of children: those who live in urban environments. Similar cognitive tests of children in Native American communities in Wisconsin and among the Yukatek Maya communities in Mexico showed none of the empirical patterns that the American urban children displayed. The answer, of course, is that urban children grow up in an impoverished environment where they will rarely, if ever, interact with animals other than humans (with the occasional dog or cat kept as a pet). This is a very different environment from many non-Western societies, and certainly from the one our remote ancestors lived in.

As a result, the “unnatural” environment of these WEIRD children resulted in anthropocentric assumptions about the natural world until they were taught differently by teachers or from television (though I often wonder how an increased exposure to nature when they’re young might influence adult attitudes about the importance of environmental issues). Given this, as Henrich points out, it makes as much sense to use urban children in studies of human cognition as it would to study “normal” physical growth in malnourished children. Because the psychologists who carried out these studies likely grew up in an urban environment themselves (rural students are significantly less likely to attend graduate school, particularly at top-ranking institutions) the confirmation bias of such studies are perpetuated. It’s almost as if psychopaths were conducting research on themselves and claiming their results were universal.

Of course, there is one important difference between psychopaths and American society. Psychopathy, and Anti-Social Personality Disorder more generally, is a diagnosed mental disorder that has a partial basis in genetics, not just the environment. Nevertheless, the confirmation bias that exists in many psychological studies represents a distortion of reality that has just as much potential to be passed on to subsequent generations.

The fact that empirical differences exist on identical psychological studies when replicated cross-culturally should make evolutionary researchers take caution (especially Evolutionary Psychologists who are most guilty of essentializing these studies). What Henrich and colleagues have called for is a renewed effort to conduct similar cross-cultural research before making grand claims about the species as a whole. At the very least it means that researchers and science journalists alike should be careful not to perpetuate ideas that appeal to their own beliefs but which may have no basis in other societies. To do otherwise would be to confuse our own reflection in a hall of mirrors with a crowd of people making identical movements. That would clearly be psychotic.

This post originally appeared at the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Blogs.

Reference:

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33 (2-3), 61-83 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Aspergers and Society / Adulthood into Old Age

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It’s not only social ideas about “senior citizenship” that drive me crazy. One can ignore the drumbeat commercials for adult diapers, and for the hundreds of drugs that claim to prolong life by a week or two, or chastisements over bad habits like smoking or eating red meat – habits that supposedly shove one off the cliff “before one’s time” as if death can be predicted by statistics and then becomes a game of “cheat death” so others may profit.

I frown when the physician’s assistant at our clinic rattles off the big diseases that wait ahead that I must strive to avoid.

“Just how am I supposed to die?” I always ask her. This is one more social snag for an ageing Asperger: making direct, honest challenges to the social rules and concepts surrounding aging. I’m not about to start loading up on prescriptions that will mess up my mind and body while claiming to relieve me of some condition that is merely an annoyance, until 30 bottles of pills crowd the bathroom counter – pills that supposedly undo the adverse effects of other pills.

Real physical changes do require psychological adjustment; not easy for Asperger types. One often hears that Asperger people don’t like change, but this puts the wrong spin on how we may react to change. “Liking” change has little to do with it. Anxiety has been a life-long companion; no one who has lived with chronic depression and anxiety wants to spend any more time in these states than is possible. Change initiates stress  for every human, but for an Asperger, “good” stress is no different than “bad stress.”

I am exceedingly averse to losing control to neurotypicals, who “go by” mechanistic plans that supposedly “help” people, but which assume that people are all the same and ought to comply with whatever boneheaded scheme institutions, corporations or governments apply – obedience is the theme. For the elderly, that generally means returning to kindergarten. In the neurotypical mind this makes sense. Old people are just like children: treat them like children; problem solved. No need to understand old age as a unique stage of life.

It may be due to having an artistic temperament. Artists and writers often choose a simple existence – something like: 1. Work in the morning. 2. Eat, take a walk, do errands in the afternoon. 3. Go back to work in the evening. To people who follow a rigorous social existence, where not one minute is “free” (it’s now a virtue to be an out of balance and exhausted squirrel who never rests) this may seem selfish, lazy, unfair, or even criminal.

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“You write? What do you write?” If I said cookbooks, romance novels or fashion guides that would be fine, but what one writes has nothing to do with writing for money. Writing is thinking and learning and persistence is required.

If you ask what any American what he or she does, as long as it involves a paycheck, it’s acceptable, because someone has conferred social value on that person by paying them with money.

I had thought that my current lifestyle would carry me into old age with little more than a “bump” or two, but that’s not so. Old age really is a new phase of life just like childhood, adolescence and young adulthood; work, marriage, family and children; empty-nesting and having to raise your grandchildren when you thought all of that was finished. It’s not attempting to extend “youth” into six, seven or even eight decades.

Writing that summons up a lifetime of experience asks the question, Now what are you going to do about all that information you have stored?

Taking yoga classes, getting a plastic surgery “100,000 mile” overhaul, buying Ho-rish young clothing, playing bridge or going bowling with other seniors; nothing wrong with those options, I suppose, but my life’s trajectory has never been social.

Just what do Asperger types do in old age? It’s a new frontier… how to be seen as a capable adult human, despite having people speak to you as if you’re a lost and deaf three year-old; to be regarded as having no purpose to continue.

I’ve dealt with strange reactions to my thoughts and behavior for six decades, but I find that learning to accommodate frustration has not lessened my irritation.

What a waste of experience and wisdom is wasted in American culture.

What a waste of experience and wisdom in American culture, when elders are dismissed as nuisances.

Society puts a lot of energy into depriving all kinds of people of fulfillment: human beings need to contribute to human effort and accomplishment. People suffer when they become objects that the “ruling minority” deny self-expression and the means to support families.

One of the great insults to Aspergers individuals is to deny us the basic human satisfaction of contributing: not because we don’t have skills and intelligence, but because we don’t “ape” social conventions. What a loss: society needs us, young and old. 

 

 

 

Human Predators / Animal Predators

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Well! If that doesn’t say, “I’m a predator” what does? The problem is, nature has rules of predation that constrain the predator-prey relationship. Humans don’t. Humans kill, kill, kill with no sense of proportion or consequence. That’s why thousands of species are going extinct and human beings suffer from human-on-human predation.

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This faux complaint goes back to before the pyramids: the male predator complains that the female prey is being “unfair” – the Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd scenario and/or Road Runner & Wiley Coyote.

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The real thing: and females dominate the hyena show.

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Why do people think that this statement is illuminating, surprising, informative or intelligent? If psychopaths experienced guilt, remorse, shame or responsibility, they wouldn’t be psychopaths. Criminals usually “fake” these attitudes at sentencing  with tearful apologies, and rather unbelievably, are often believed. In the U.S.A. saying you’re sorry can get you out of almost any infraction.

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The battle for Top Prey – it’s real!

Human Predator and Prey Relationships

What we have is the indirect admission that “modern social males” are a whole lot tamer (neotenic; feminized; lower testosterone) than archaic humans. The website (alpha male FTS) also presents a clichéd concept of Male vs. male in both “wild communities” and in neurotypical societies. As usual, the environment is ignored as the shaper of evolution. That is, predators may have a lot to do with pushing the human brain toward the clever, high capacity human brain (mid Homo erectus) that peaked in size in hunters, but has been shrinking for thousands of years.

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Smell the testosterone!

From Prey to Predator / from Alpha Male FTS (Fitness)

Humans are inherently weak, feeble and really shouldn’t be able to survive much longer than a few hours out in the elements. We have nothing to keep us warm unless we put in work somewhere else and make clothing to trap our body heat.

We can’t go out and kill many things without having to make some type of weapon first. Ditto for self-defense. We were prey for the majority of our existence and had to think about fending off predators if we wanted to make it through the day. (A bit simplistic, and again the mistake of equating modern neotenic Homo sapiens with Archaic homo.)

The one thing that we do have that fixes all of these issues is our brain. The ability to think things out, to realize potential, and truth. (Oh dear! I bet that scared away cave bears! What did humans do BEFORE the “executive functions” came on line and “brain power” was consumed in coordinating the complex interactions that run the human body?)

The greatest realization that we have as humans is to finally understand we are a predator too…and not just the prey. (males, of course – modern predators tend to be camouflaged by business suits and hang out in a new environment – the top of the social pyramid.) 

For all the exciting ways that a modern male can recapture an imaginary Alpha-hood – go to http://alphamalefts.com.

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Not everyone can be a predator; predators must have prey; prey must have predators.

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Money is the measure of status and power in American society, so it’s easy to locate predators. An excess of predators causes instability: the upward movement of wealth to the top 1% has produced excess candidates for the predatory class. A predator-on-predator war is going on right now in the U.S. political arena, on behalf of the extended Top 1% that politicians “serve.”

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The way to a “natural” predator-prey curve requires a reduction in predators. In the wild, “candidates” would be literally knocking each other off in physical contests.  Concerning the American paradigm of wealth, we might do better to auction off political “jobs” and apply the funds to our staggering debt. (A bit Roman, but perhaps more effective than elections.)

 

Asperger and Black / How dangerous is that?

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Huffington Post blog ‘Autism Without Fear’

Michael John Carley is the Founder of GRASP, a School Consultant, and the author of “Asperger’s From the Inside-Out” (Penguin/Perigee 2008), “Unemployed on the Autism Spectrum,” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2016), “‘Why Am I Afraid of Sex?’ Building Sexual Confidence in the Autism Spectrum…and Beyond!” (late 2016), and “The Last Memoir of Asperger’s Syndrome” (unsigned). In 2000, he and one of his two sons were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Re-evaluated in 2014, he was diagnosed with ASD. More information can be found at www.michaeljohncarley.com

Follow Michael John Carley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjcarley

Studio

On Darius McCollum, and the Necessary Resignations of Allen Cappelli, Charles Moerdler, and Andrew Alpert

03/21/2016 | Updated Mar 21, 2016

Darius McCollum, the notorious train/bus thief with Asperger’s, is back in the news…for a different reason than you might expect.

No, Darius was not arrested for the theft of a subway train or a bus. He’s actually sitting in prison again awaiting charges after his last arrest. No, Darius is back in the news because three New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officials—Allen Cappelli, Charles Moerdler, and Andrew Alpert—have taken their objections of a reported movie deal, to the press.

For those who are reading about Darius for the first time, allow me the following: Darius McCollum is a ridiculously-friendly, 50 or 51 year old man with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)…who has spent more than half of his adult life behind bars. His passion and extensive knowledge of trains and buses—coupled with a total lack of educational, vocational, and counseling opportunities—has caused him to steal subway cars and buses since he was 15 years old. Furthermore, he has been caught and arrested more than 30 times.

“Steal,” however, is not the right word; because all Darius does is take riders on their pre-ordained route. He drops them off at their stop, tells them over the intercom to have a nice day, and the hundreds of unknowing passengers that Darius has transported over the years have never been the wiser (as to the imposturous nature of their driver). Unless he gets caught, Darius walks away from the vehicle once its route is over. He loves transportation; and one could argue that it’s as simple as that.

Is this “hobby” totally harmless? No. Public safety as a concept requires rules that Darius clearly violates every time he grabs a vehicle for a joyride. If what Darius did was legal, others who have nowhere near Darius’ knowledge of the systems would duplicate Darius’ actions, and fatalities would inevitably result (experts agree he knows more about the MTA’s procedures than the vast majority of MTA employees).

But as the arrests mounted over the years, a no-brainer call was issued to the MTA: “Hire him!“ It certainly made sense. Heck, Homeland Security even visited Darius in jail* to get his opinion on how to keep our transportation system safer! Not only could Darius contribute to keeping people like Darius from the theft of transport, he could possibly prevent others—the really bad guys—from doing much greater harm with the same abilities.

(*Darius was not compensated in any way—not even time off his then-current sentence—for his generosity to Homeland Security. Contrary to being embittered, Darius is quite proud of having contributed to our Nation’s safety).

Me – What’s horribly disturbing is the unanswered question: Has this man ever been properly examined and diagnosed for Asperger Syndrome or any other disorder, mental illness, or medical condition, or is he being jailed simply because he’s an uneducated black male? That is, judged as criminal rather than a person who is “different.”

But the calls to hire a man who has only wanted to do good…fell soundlessly in the MTA forest. Perhaps they were resentful of how Darius’ exploits had driven their insurance rates up, or how time and time again his exposure of security lapses embarrassed the MTA in the press. It was assumed that the MTA just wasn’t paying attention to the calls to hire this star recruit.

Yet now we know why the MTA wouldn’t hire him. They were hearing the calls, but they were responding to them with massive insensitivity, if not outright bigotry. The MTA administration, as people, are the problem.

In comments that greatly offended the autism/Asperger world, if not the entire disability community, not one, but three MTA Board members took to the media in a New York Post article to convey resentment over the reported movie deal about Darius’ life. In the article, all three bitterly suggested that the MTA should fight to claim whatever financial compensation Darius receives in any such deal.

Cappelli: “The MTA should be able to receive compensation from (McCollum).”

Moerdler: “I will raise this with the transit committee.“

Alpert: “This is too much! Glorify a train/bus thief?“

I would welcome these three “gentlemen” to switch lives with Darius.

Not that I know of any great reputation that the MTA has ever enjoyed, but if there ever was such a thing, Cappelli, Moerdler, and Alpert have stained it by their refusal to acknowledge the challenges of a disability. These three need to resign if the MTA, and perhaps Bill De Blasio’s progressive Mayoral administration, is ever to save face with the autism/Asperger community.

As a player in Darius’ history, I myself would agree, and have publicly acknowledged, that Darius’ publicity has been just as equal an adversary to Darius getting his life on track (no pun intended) than his Asperger’s.

But this is no excuse for such poor, and petty behavior coming from city officials.

I too, share Darius’ diagnosis. But I’ve had a gazillion more opportunities than Darius. The whole gist of Darius’ dilemma has always come down to this question, “Given the two choices before you, which life would you prefer?”

1. “Darius, do you want to try and create a life for yourself with the following tools: No educational credentials; no job training; a long, federal prison record; a limited window (as a 50+ year old), no counseling offered, a comfort—though by no means a preference—with a prison system that you are at the very least…”familiar with;” and finally, you do not come from money…”

Now come on…How attractive would that be to you? Would you choose that, or…?

2. “Darius, would you prefer a life of limited fame, but still fame, and attention? Wouldn’t you make prison the sacrificial lamb, so that the anxiety of an outside world that no one has prepared you for…does not overwhelm you?”

I think that in Darius’ shoes, 99% of us choose the latter.

In addition to this “deal,” Darius is in a new book, In a Different Key, and in an upcoming documentary called “Off the Rails.”

But if his life is so great, then again…why hasn’t someone bailed him out of jail?

For decades, the man has needed therapeutic treatment, costing on average about $5,000-$10,000 per year—maybe $25,000 for something really great and intensive. Instead, our system pays over $165,000 a year to keep him incarcerated. Forget Darius: How many other Dariuses sit in jail that we don’t know about?

Mayor De Blasio, please remove these men, and bar them from further positions wherein they might have to show compassion for those less fortunate than they.

Darius is more fortunate than Cappelli, Moerdler, and Alpert in only one known area: He was raised better.

What’s horribly disturbing is the unanswered question: Has this man ever been properly examined and diagnosed for Asperger Syndrome or any other disorder, mental illness or medical condition, or is he being reacted to (jailed) simply because he’s an uneducated black male? That is, judged a criminal rather than a person who is “different.”

 

 

 

 

Brief Lecture / Neurobiology Emotion

The “faces” used in these tests (not just this video) look very exaggerated and “phony” to me. I don’t perceive an “emotion” but instead begin to wonder whether the unnatural faces promote “cheating” in the test subject. That is, are people really good at deciphering faces, or are the tests designed to make the task easier?

Also, the faces are static and without context. Human faces / emotions are not static and expression is fluid. This type of test is not realistic. So what does it mean?

Also, how would one identify “disgust” (or other emotion) if one hadn’t named it “disgust” and taught people that this particular face matches the emotion named “disgust” ? Animals don’t have words for emotions, but they express emotion /  “reactions” to the environment.