Observing facial expressions automatically prompts imitation, as can be seen with facial electromyography. To investigate whether this reaction is driven by automatic mimicry or by recognition of the emotion displayed we recorded electromyograph responses to presentations of facial expressions, face–voice combinations and bodily expressions, which resulted from happy and fearful stimuli. We observed emotion-specific facial muscle activity (zygomaticus for happiness, corrugator for fear) for all three stimulus categories. This indicates that spontaneous facial expression is more akin to an emotional reaction than to facial mimicry and imitation of the seen face stimulus. We suggest that seeing a facial expression, an emotional body expression or hearing an emotional tone of voice all activate the affect program corresponding to the emotion displayed.
aDepartment of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, University Medical Center, Utrecht
bLaboratory of Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Tilburg University, Tilburg
cSection Biological Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
dMartinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, Massachusetts, USA
Correspondence to Dr Beatrice de Gelder, PhD, Athinous MGH-NMR Center, Bldg. 36, First Street, Room 417, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA
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Received 31 October 2006; accepted 28 November 2006