Joy is reciprocally transmitted between teachers and students: Evidence on facial mimicry in the classroom

Anne C. Frenzel

Muhterem Dindar

Reinhard Pekrun

Corinna Reck

Anton K.G. Marx

Background: The critical importance of positive emotions for classroom functioning is well established and teachers’ and learners’ trait-based joy during class has been shown to covary. This has been interpreted as evidence of emotional contagion across teachers and learners. However, no research to date seems to have explored in-situ processes of emotional contagion, thus the social dynamic of positive emotion transmission during instruction is poorly understood.

Aims: In this study, we aim to explore one fundamental mechanism proposed to underlie emotional contagion, namely facial mimicry. We seek to provide evidence of facial joy mimicry between teachers and students during real-life instruction, and explore its relations with teachers’ and learners’ subjective session joy experiences.

Sample: Participants were 13 university instructors and 69 of their students.

Methods: Participants’ joy expressions were captured through a multi-camera setup and submitted to AI-based automated facial emotion coding. Facial mimicry within each teacher–student dyad was determined through cross-recurrence quantification analysis.

Results: Instructors’ and students’ facial expressions of joy co-occurred substantially above chance level -2s and +3s seconds relative to the instructors’ expressions. Post-session self-reported joy was significantly positively correlated with the instructor–student dyad mimicry quantity for instructors, but not for students. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that joy transmission between teachers and students is a reciprocal process, and that teachers seem to emotionally benefit from joint episodes of positive expression in class.

This publication uses Facial Expression Analysis which is fully integrated into iMotions Lab

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