Mimicking and sharing emotions: a re-examination of the link between facial mimicry and emotional contagion

Abstract: Facial mimicry has long been considered a main mechanism underlying emotional contagion (i.e. the transfer of emotions between people). A closer look at the empirical evidence, however, reveals that although these two phenomena often co-occur, the changes in emotional expressions may not necessarily be causally linked to the changes in subjective emotional experience. Here, we directly investigate this link, by testing a model in which facial activity served as a mediator between the observed emotional displays and subsequently felt emotions (i.e. emotional contagion). Participants watched videos of different senders displaying happiness, anger, or sadness, while their facial activity was recorded. After each video, participants rated their own emotions and assessed the senders’ likeability and competence. Participants both mimicked and reported feeling the emotions displayed by the senders. Moreover, their facial activity partially explained the association between the senders’ emotional displays and self-reported emotions, thereby supporting the notion that facial mimicry may be involved in emotional contagion.

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