When smiling back helps and scowling back hurts: individual differences in emotional mimicry are associated with self-reported interaction quality during conflict interactions

  • Heidi MauersbergerEmail author
  • Ursula Hess
Original Paper


Conflicts or disagreements during which negative, antagonistic emotions are expressed are perceived as uncomfortable. By contrast, disagreements accompanied by positive, affiliative emotions are less detrimental to interaction quality. We assessed whether individual differences in emotional mimicry have differential effects on interaction quality during disagreements with negative emotions compared to disagreements with positive emotions. For this, participants talked with someone who disagreed with them in a controlled laboratory setting, while emotional mimicry was assessed via facial EMG. The interaction partner showed either an antagonistic or an affiliative demeanor during the interaction. Following the interaction, participants reported on perceived interaction quality. In line with the Emotional Mimicry in Context view (Hess and Fischer in Pers Social Psychol Rev 17:142–157, 2013), emotional mimicry decreased interaction quality when the person who disagreed showed an antagonistic demeanor but increased interaction quality when the person who disagreed showed an affiliative demeanor. Furthermore, implicit affiliation motivation predicted emotional mimicry regardless the context.


Conflicts Disagreements Antagonistic emotions Affiliative emotions Emotional mimicry Implicit affiliation motivation 



Data collection of this study was supported by a grant from the structured graduate program “Self-Regulation Dynamics Across Adulthood and Old Age: Potentials and Limits” (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) to Heidi Mauersberger.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in the study that involved human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11031_2018_9743_MOESM1_ESM.docx (124 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 125 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

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