Monday, May 28, 2007

Embodying emotion

This is the title of an interesting review by Niedenthal (PDF here) on how manipulations of facial expression and posture in the laboratory can influence how emotions are processed. Whether we are similing or frowning, or hunched over or upright, can profoundly influence our emotional reactions to positive or negative input. Here is the abstract:
Recent theories of embodied cognition suggest new ways to look at how we process emotional information. The theories suggest that perceiving and thinking about emotion involve perceptual, somatovisceral, and motoric reexperiencing (collectively referred to as "embodiment") of the relevant emotion in one's self. The embodiment of emotion, when induced in human participants by manipulations of facial expression and posture in the laboratory, causally affects how emotional information is processed. Congruence between the recipient's bodily expression of emotion and the sender's emotional tone of language, for instance, facilitates comprehension of the communication, whereas incongruence can impair comprehension. Taken all together, recent findings provide a scientific account of the familiar contention that "when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you."

Two ways in which facial expression has been manipulated in behavioral experiments. (Top) In order to manipulate contraction of the brow muscle in a simulation of negative affect, researchers have affixed golf tees to the inside of participants' eyebrows. Participants in whom negative emotion was induced were instructed to bring the ends of the golf tees together, as in the right panel. [Photo credit: Psychology Press]. (Bottom) In other research, participants either held a pen between the lips to inhibit smiling, as in the left panel, or else held the pen between the teeth to facilitate smiling.

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