Halberstadt, J., Winkielman, P., Niedenthal, P. M., & Dalle, N. (2009). Emotional conception: How embodied emotion concepts guide perception and facial action. Psychological Science, 20, 1254-1261.
This study assessed embodied simulation via electromyography (EMG) as participants first encoded emotionally ambiguous faces with emotion concepts (i.e., ‘‘angry,’’ ‘‘happy’’) and later passively viewed the faces without the concepts. Memory for the faces was also measured. At initial encoding, participants displayed more smiling-related EMG activity in response to faces paired with ‘‘happy’’ than in response to faces paired with ‘‘angry.’’ Later, in the absence of concepts, participants remembered happiness-encoded faces as happier than anger-encoded faces. Further, during passive re-exposure to the ambiguous faces, participants’ EMG indicated spontaneous emotion-specific mimicry, which in turn predicted memory bias. No specific EMG activity was observed when participants encoded or viewed faces with non-emotion-related valenced concepts, or when participants encoded or viewed Chinese ideographs. From an embodiment perspective, emotion simulation is a measure of what is currently perceived. Thus, these findings provide evidence of genuine concept-driven changes in emotion perception. More generally, the findings highlight embodiment’s role in the representation and processing of emotional information.