Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 225–239 | Cite as

Rapid Emotional Contagion and Expressive Congruence Under Strong Test Conditions

  • David A. LishnerEmail author
  • Amy B. Cooter
  • David H. Zald
Original Paper


The present research examined whether the observation of emotional expressions rapidly induces congruent emotional experiences and facial responses in observers under strong test conditions. Specifically, participants rated their emotional reactions after (a) single, brief exposures of (b) a range of human emotional facial expressions that included (c) a neutral face comparison using a procedure designed to (d) minimize potential experimental demand. Even with these strong test conditions in place, participants reported discrete expression-congruent changes in emotional experience. Participants’ Corrugator supercilii facial muscle activity immediately following the presentation of an emotional expression appeared to reflect expressive congruence with the observed expression and a response indicative of the amount of cognitive load necessary to interpret the observed expression. The complexity of the C. supercilii response suggests caution in using facial muscle activity as a nonverbal measure of emotional contagion.


Emotional contagion Emotional expressions Expressive congruence Cognitive load Mimicry EMG 



The authors thank Monica Harris, Ursula Hess, and an anonymous reviewer for providing helpful feedback on an earlier draft. David Lishner was supported by NIMH training grant #T32-MH18921 during the collection of data for both studies.


  1. Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. (1994). Impaired recognition of emotion in facial expressions following bilateral damage to the human amygdala. Nature, 372, 669–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Hamann, S., Young, A. W., Calder, A. J., Phelps, E. A., et al. (1999). Recognition of facial emotion in nine individuals with bilateral amygdala damage. Neuropsychologia, 37, 1111–1117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bavelas, J. B., Black, A., Chovil, N., Lemery, C. R., & Mullett, J. (1988). Form and function in motor mimicry: Topographic evidence that the primary function is communicative. Human Communication Research, 14, 275–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bavelas, J. B., Black, A., Lemery, C. R., & Mullett, J. (1986). “I show how you feel”: Motor mimicry as a communicative act. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 322–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blairy, S., Herrera, P., & Hess, U. (1999). Mimicry and the judgment of emotional facial expressions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 23, 5–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cacioppo, J. T., Tassinary, L. G., & Fridlund, A. J. (1990). The skeletomotor system. In J. T. Cacioppo & L. G. Tassinary (Eds.), Principles of psychophysiology (pp. 325–384). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cappella, J. N. (1993). The facial feedback hypothesis in human interaction: Review and speculation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 12, 13–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dimberg, U. (1982). Facial reactions to facial expressions. Psychophysiology, 19, 643–647.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dimberg, U. (1988). Facial electromyography and the experience of emotion. Journal of Psychophysiology, 2, 277–282.Google Scholar
  10. Dimberg, U. (1990). Facial electromyography and emotional reactions. Psychophysiology, 27, 481–494.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dimberg, U. (1997). Facial reactions: Rapidly evoked emotional responses. Journal of Psychophysiology, 11, 115–123.Google Scholar
  12. Dimberg, U., & Karlsson, B. (1997). Facial reactions to different emotionally relevant stimuli. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 38, 297–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dimberg, U., & Lundquist, L. O. (1990). Gender differences in facial reactions to facial expressions. Biological Psychology, 30, 151–159.Google Scholar
  14. Dimberg, U., & Petterson, M. (2000). Facial reactions to happy and angry facial expressions: Evidence for right hemisphere dominance. Psychophysiology, 37, 693–696.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dimberg, U., & Thunberg, M. (1998). Rapid facial reactions to emotional facial expression. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 39, 39–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M., & Elmehed, K. (2000). Unconscious facial reactions to emotional facial expressions. Psychological Science, 11, 86–89.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Duclos, S. E., Laird, J. D., Schneider, E., Sexter, M., Stern, L., & Lighten, O. V. (1989). Emotion-specific effects of facial expressions and postures on emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ekman, P. (1992). Are there basic emotions? Psychological Review, 99, 550–553.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Flack, W. F., Jr., Laird, J. D., & Cavallaro, L. A. (1999). Separate and combined effects of facial expressions and bodily postures on emotional feelings. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 203–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gump, B. B., & Kulik, J. A. (1997). Stress, affiliation, and emotional contagion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 305–319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1993). Emotional contagion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hess, U., & Blairy, S. (2001). Facial mimicry and emotional contagion to dynamic emotional facial expression and their influence on decoding accuracy. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 40, 129–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hess, U., Philippot, P., & Blairy, S. (1998). Facial reactions to emotional facial expressions: Affect or cognition? Cognition and Emotion, 12, 509–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hoffman, M. L. (2002). How automatic and representational is empathy, and why. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 38–39.Google Scholar
  25. Lanzetta, J. T., & Orr, S. P. (1981). Stimulus properties of facial expressions and their influence on the classical conditioning of fear. Motivation and Emotion, 5, 225–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lishner, D. A., Cooter, A. B., & Zald, D. H. (2008). Addressing limitation in affective rating scales: Development of an empirical valence scale. Cognition and Emotion, 22, 180–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lundqvist, L., & Dimberg, U. (1995). Facial expressions are contagious. Journal of Psychophysiology, 9, 203–211.Google Scholar
  28. Marsh, A. A., Ambady, N., & Kleck, R. E. (2005). The effects of fear and anger expressions on approach- and avoidance-related behaviors. Emotion, 5, 119–124.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Masters, R. D., Sullivan, D. G., Lanzetta, J. T., McHugo, G. J., & Englis, B. G. (1986). The facial displays of leaders: Toward and ethology of human politics. Journal of Social Biological Structures, 9, 219–343.Google Scholar
  30. Matsumoto, D., & Ekman, P. (1988). Japanese and Caucasian facial expressions of emotion and neutral faces (JACFEE and JACNeuF). [Slides]. San Francisco, CA: Intercultural and Emotion Research Laboratory, Department of Psychology, San Francisco State University.Google Scholar
  31. McHugo, G. J., Lanzetta, J. T., & Bush, L. K. (1991). The effect of attitudes on emotional reactions to expressive displays of political leaders. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 15, 19–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McHugo, G. J., Lanzetta, J. T., Sullivan, D. G., Masters, R. D., & Englis, B. G. (1985). Emotional reactions to a political leader’s expressive displays. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1513–1529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Moody, E. J., McIntosh, D. N., Mann, L. J., & Weisser, K. R. (2007). More than mere mimicry? The influence of emotion on rapid facial reactions to faces. Emotion, 7, 447–457.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Öhman, A., & Dimberg, U. (1978). Facial expression as conditioned stimuli for electrodermal responses: A case of “preparedness”? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 1251–1258.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Orr, S. P., & Lanzetta, J. T. (1984). Extinction of an emotional response in the presence of facial expressions of emotion. Motivation and emotion, 8, 55–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pope, L. K., & Smith, C. A. (1994). On the distinct meanings of smiles and frowns. Cognition and Emotion, 8, 65–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Preston, S. D., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2002). Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 1–20.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Schneider, F., Gur, R. C., Gur, R. E., & Muenz, L. R. (1994). Standardized mood induction with happy and sad facial expressions. Psychiatry Research, 51, 19–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sonnby-Borström, M. (2002). Automatic mimicry reactions as related to differences in emotional empathy. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 43, 433–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sonnby-Borström, M., Jönsson, P., & Svensson, O. (2003). Emotional empathy as related to mimicry reactions at different levels of information processing. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 27, 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Spangler, G., Emlinger, S., Meinhardt, J., & Hamm, A. (2001). The specificity of emotional expression for emotion perception. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 41, 155–168.Google Scholar
  42. Stemmler, G. (2003). Methodological considerations in the psychophysiological study of emotion. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 225–255). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Surakka, V., & Hietanen, J. K. (1998). Facial and emotional reactions to Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 29, 23–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tassinary, L. G., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1992). Unobservable facial actions and emotion. Psychological Science, 3, 28–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tassinary, L. G., Cacioppo, J. T., & Geen, T. R. (1989). A psychometric study of surface electrode placements for facial electromyographic recording: I the brow and cheek muscle regions. Psychophysiology, 26, 1–16.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Weyers, P., Mühlberger, A., Hefele, C., & Pauli, P. (2006). Electromyographic responses to static and dynamic avatar emotional facial expressions. Psychophysiology, 43, 450–453.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Whalen, P. J., Rauch, S. J., Etcoff, N. L., McInerney, S. C., Lee, M. B., & Jenike, M. A. (1998). Masked presentations of emotional facial expressions modulate amygdala activity without explicit knowledge. Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 411–418.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Wild, B., Erb, M., & Bartels, M. (2001). Are emotions contagious? Evoked emotions while viewing emotionally expressive faces: Quality, quantity, time course and gender differences. Psychiatry Research, 102, 109–124.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zald, D. H. (2003). The human amygdala and the emotional evaluation of sensory stimuli. Brain Research Reviews, 41, 88–123.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Lishner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy B. Cooter
    • 2
  • David H. Zald
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyVanderbilt UniversityNashville USA

Personalised recommendations