Two experiments investigated the effect of facial expressions on clinically-relevant ambiguity resolution in a nonclinical sample. Experiment 1 investigated the effect of negative facial feedback (frowning) on a basic threat-interpretation bias procedure using a homophone spelling task and found that participants in a frowning condition interpreted significantly more threat/neutral homophones as threats than did participants in a neutral control condition. Experiment 2 investigated how frowning affected interpretation of bodily sensations. The findings indicated that participants in the frowning condition generated fewer positive consequences for bodily sensation scenarios and also rated the imagined bodily sensations as more negative and more of a cause for health concern. These effects could not simply be explained by differences in self-reported mood or by demand characteristics. These findings suggest that facial expressions have a moderating effect on the cognitive processes that contribute to clinically-relevant ambiguity resolution, and this has implications for clinical interventions.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Adelman, P. K., & Zajonc, R. B. (1989). Facial efference and the experience of emotion. Annual Review of Psychology, 40, 249–280.
Austin, D. W., & Richards, J. C. (2001). The catastrophic misinterpretation model of panic disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 39, 1277–1291.
Barazzone, N., & Davey, G. C. L. (2009). Anger potentiates the reporting of threatening interpretations: An experimental study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 489–495.
Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. New York: Guilford Press.
Bergen, B., Lindsay, S., Matlock, T., & Narayanan, S. (2007). Spatial and linguistic aspects of visual imagery in sentence comprehension. Cognitive Science, 31, 733–764.
Bergen, B., & Wheeler, K. (2010). Grammatical aspect and mental simulation. Brain and Language, 112, 150–158.
Blanchette, I., & Richards, A. (2003). Anxiety and the interpretation of ambiguous information: Beyond the emotion-congruent effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 294–309.
Blanchette, I., & Richards, A. (2010). The influence of affect on higher level cognition: A review of research on interpretation, judgment, decision making and reasoning. Cognition and Emotion, 24, 561–595.
Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36, 129–148.
Butler, G., & Mathews, A. (1983). Cognitive processes in anxiety. Advances in Behaviour Research & Therapy, 5, 51–62.
Byrne, A., & Eysenck, M. W. (1993). Individual differences in positive and negative interpretive biases. Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 849–851.
Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., Losch, M. E., & Kim, H. S. (1989). Electromyographic activity over facial muscle regions can differentiate the valence and intensity of affective reactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 260–268.
Camras, L. A., Holland, E. A., & Patterson, M. J. (1993). Facial expression. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 199–208). New York: Guilford.
Cavanagh, K., & Davey, G. C. L. (2004). Access to information about harm and safety in spider fearful and non-fearful individuals: When they were good they were very very good but when they were bad they were horrid. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 34, 269–281.
Clark, D. M. (1986). A cognitive approach to panic. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 24, 348–351.
Clark, D. M., Salkovskis, P. M., Ost, L.-G., Breitholtz, E., et al. (1997). Misinterpretation of bodily sensations in panic disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 203–213.
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioural sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
Davey, G. C. L. (2006). Cognitive mechanisms in fear acquisition and maintenance. In M. G. Craske, D. Hermans & D. Vansteenwegen (Eds.), Fear and learning: From basic processes to clinical implications (pp. 99–116). Washington, DC, US.
Davey, G. C. L., Bickerstaffe, S., & MacDonald, B. A. (2006). Experienced disgust causes a negative interpretation bias: A causal role for disgust in anxious psychopathology. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1375–1384.
Davey, G. C. L., Hampton, J., Farrell, J., & Davidson, S. (1992). Some characteristics of worrying: Evidence for worrying and anxiety as separate constructs. Personality and Individual Differences, 13, 133–147.
Davis, J. I., Senghas, A., & Ochsner, K. N. (2009). How does facial feedback modulate emotional experience? Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 822–829.
Dimberg, U., & Söderkvist, S. (2011). The voluntary facial action technique: A method to test the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 35, 17–33.
Duclos, S. E., Laird, J. D., Schneider, E., Sexter, M., Stern, L., & Van Lighten, O. (1989). Emotion-specific effects of facial expressions and postures on emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 100–108.
Ekman, P., Levenson, R. W., & Friesen, W. V. (1983). Autonomic nervous system activity distinguishes between emotions. Science, 22L, 1208–1210.
Eysenck, M. W., Macleod, C., & Mathews, A. (1987). Cognitive functioning and anxiety. Psychological Research, 49, 189–195.
Flack, W. F., 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.
Fulton, J., Marcus, D. K., & Merkey, T. (2011). Irrational health beliefs and health anxiety. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 527–538.
Hadwin, J., Frost, S., French, C. C., & Richards, A. (1997). Cognitive processing and trait anxiety in typically developing children evidence for an interpretation bias. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 486–490.
Halberstadt, J. B., Niedenthal, P. M., & Kushner, J. (1995). Resolution of lexical ambiguity by emotional state. Psychological Science, 6, 278–282.
Harrigan, J. A., & O’Connell, D. M. (1996). How do you look when feeling anxious? Facial displays of anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 205–212.
Havas, D. A., Glenberg, A. M., Gutowski, K. A., Lucarelli, M. J., & Davidson, R. J. (2010). Cosmetic use of botulinum toxin-A affects processing of emotional language. Psychological Science, 21, 895–900.
Hertel, P. T., Mathews, A., Peterson, S., & Kinter, K. (2003). Transfer of training emotionally biased interpretations. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 775–784.
Hess, U., Kappas, A., McHugo, G. J., Lanzetta, J. T., & Kleck, R. E. (1992). The facilitative effects of facial expression on the self-generation of emotion. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 12, 251–265.
Hoch, J. S. (1984). Availability and interference in predictive judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 10, 649–662.
Huppert, J. D., Pasupuleti, R. V., Foa, E. B., & Mathews, A. (2007). Interpretation biases in social anxiety: Response generation, response selection, and self-appraisals. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1505–1515.
Laird, J. D. (1974). Self-attribution of emotion: The effects of expressive behaviour on the quality of emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 475–486.
Laird, J. D., Cuniff, M., Sheehan, K., Shulman, D., & Strum, G. (1989). Emotion specific effects of facial expressions on memory for life events. In D. Kuiken (Ed) Mood and memory: Theory, research and applications (Special Issue). Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 4, 87–98.
Larsen, R. J., Kasimatis, M., & Frey, K. (1992). Facilitating the furrowed brow: An unobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis applied to unpleasant affect. Cognition and Emotion, 6(5), 321–338.
Levenson, R. W., Eckman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1990). Voluntary facial action generates emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity. Psychophysiology, 27, 363–384.
MacLeod, C., & Cohen, I. L. (1993). Anxiety and the interpretation of ambiguity: A text comprehension study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 238–247.
Marcus, D. K., Gurley, J. R., Marchi, M. M., & Bauer, C. (2007). Cognitive and perceptual variables in hypochondriasis and health anxiety: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 127–139.
Mathews, A., & Mackintosh, B. (2000). Induced emotional interpretation bias and anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 602–615.
Mathews, A., & MacLeod, C. (2002). Induced processing biases have causal effects on anxiety. Cognition and Emotion, 16, 331–354.
Mathews, A., & MacLeod, C. (2005). Cognitive vulnerability to emotional disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 167–195.
Mathews, A., Richards, A., & Eysenck, M. (1989). Interpretation of homophones related to threat in anxiety-states. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98, 31–34.
McIntosh, D. N. (1996). Facial feedback hypotheses: Evidence, implications and directions. Motivation & Emotion, 20, 121–147.
Michalak, J., Troje, N. F., & Heidenreich, T. (2010). Embodied effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68, 312–313.
Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. (1998). A cognitive-motivational analysis of anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 809–848.
Mogg, K., Bradley, B. P., & Hallowell, N. (1994). Attentional bias to threats: Roles of trait anxiety, stressful events, and awareness. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47A, 841–864.
Neidenthal, P. M. (2010). Emotion concepts. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), The handbook of emotion (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford.
Richards, A., & French, C. C. (1992). An anxiety-related bias in semantic activation when processing threat/neutral homographs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45A, 503–525.
Richards, A., Reynolds, A., & French, C. C. (1993). Anxiety and the spelling and use in sentences of threat/neutral homophones. Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social, 12, 18–25.
Russo, R., Patterson, N., Roberson, D., Stevenson, N., & Upward, J. (1996). Emotional value of information and its relevance in the interpretation of homophones in anxiety. Cognition and Emotion, 10, 213–220.
Schwartz, G. E., Fair, P. L., Salt, P., Mandel, M. R., & Klerman, G. L. (1976). Facial expression and imagery in depression: An electromyographic study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 38, 337–347.
Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1987). How do I feel about it?: The informative function of affective states. In K. Fiedler & J. Forgas (Eds.), Affect, cognition and social behavior. Toronto: Hogrefe International.
Sinha, R. (1996). Multivariate response patterning of fear and anger. Cognition and Emotion, 10, 173–198.
Soussignan, R. (2002). Duchenne smile, emotional experience, and autonomic reactivity: A test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Emotion, 2, 52–74.
Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile—a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 768–777.
Tassinary, L. G., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1992). Unobservable facial actions and emotion. Psychological Science, 3, 28–33.
Tassinary, L. G., Cacioppo, J. T., & Geen, T. R. (1989). A psychometric study of surface electrode placements for facial electromyographic recording. 1. The brow and cheek muscle regions. Psychophysiology, 26, 1–16.
Tversky, A., & Kahnemann, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207–232.
Wilson, E. J., MacLeod, C., Mathews, A., & Rutherford, E. M. (2006). The causal role of interpretive bias in anxiety reactivity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 103–111.
Zajonc, R. B., Murphy, S. T., & Ingelhart, M. (1989). Feeling and facial efference: Implications of the vascular theory of emotions. Psychological Review, 96, 395–416.
Zigmond, A. S., & Snaith, R. P. (1983). The z. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 67(6), 361–370.
About this article
Cite this article
Davey, G.C.L., Sired, R., Jones, S. et al. The Role of Facial Feedback in the Modulation of Clinically-Relevant Ambiguity Resolution. Cogn Ther Res 37, 284–295 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9480-5
- Facial expressions
- Interpretation biases
- Negative mood
- Ambiguity resolution