Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 221–238 | Cite as

Emotion Recognition in Nonverbal Face-to-Face Communication

  • Janina KüneckeEmail author
  • Oliver Wilhelm
  • Werner Sommer
Original Paper


The perception of emotional facial expressions may activate corresponding facial muscles in the receiver, also referred to as facial mimicry. Facial mimicry is highly dependent on the context and type of facial expressions. While previous research almost exclusively investigated mimicry in response to pictures or videos of emotional expressions, studies with a real, face-to-face partner are still rare. Here we compared facial mimicry of angry, happy, and sad expressions and emotion recognition in a dyadic face-to-face setting. In sender-receiver dyads, we recorded facial electromyograms in parallel. Senders communicated to the receivers—with facial expressions only—the emotions felt during specific personal situations in the past, eliciting anger, happiness, or sadness. Receivers mostly mimicked happiness, to a lesser degree, sadness, and anger as the least mimicked emotion. In actor-partner interdependence models we showed that the receivers’ own facial activity influenced their ratings, which increased the agreement between the senders’ and receivers’ ratings for happiness, but not for angry and sad expressions. These results are in line with the Emotion Mimicry in Context View, holding that humans mimic happy expressions according to affiliative intentions. The mimicry of sad expressions is less intense, presumably because it signals empathy and might imply personal costs. Direct anger expressions are mimicked the least, possibly because anger communicates threat and aggression. Taken together, we show that incidental facial mimicry in a face-to-face setting is positively related to the recognition accuracy for non-stereotype happy expressions, supporting the functionality of facial mimicry.


Facial mimicry Facial EMG Emotion recognition Face-to-face-interaction Actor-partner interdependence model (APIM) 

Supplementary material

10919_2017_255_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUlm UniversityUlmGermany
  3. 3.Psychologische Hochschule BerlinBerlinGermany

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