Oberman, L., Winkielman, P., & Ramachandran, V. S. (2007). Face to face: Blocking facial mimicry can selectively impair recognition of emotional expressions. Social Neuroscience, 2, 167-178.


People spontaneously mimic a variety of behaviors, including emotional facial expressions. Embodied cognition theories suggest that mimicry reflects internal simulation of perceived emotion in order to facilitate its understanding. If so, blocking facial mimicry should impair recognition of expressions, especially of emotions that are simulated using facial musculature. The current research tested this hypothesis using four expressions (happy, disgust, fear, and sad) and two mimicry-interfering manipulations (1) biting on a pen and (2) chewing gum, as well as two control conditions. Experiment 1 used electromyography over cheek, mouth, and nose regions. The bite manipulation consistently activated assessed muscles, whereas the chew manipulation activated muscles only intermittently. Further, expressing happiness generated most facial action. Experiment 2 found that the bite manipulation interfered most with recognition of happiness. These findings suggest that facial mimicry differentially contributes to recognition of specific facial expressions, thus allowing for more refined predictions from embodied cognition theories.