Empathy and Facial Expression Mimicry

Status: Completed data collection; Performing behavioral coding for artifact rejection

Wireless EEG headsetEDA and optical pulse

Josh Wondra

Psychology; Research Center for Group Dynamics

When you see someone smile, sometimes you smile back. Some researchers have argued that this happens because people automatically mimic others’ emotional facial expressions. But when you see someone else smile, it usually means that something good happened to them. What looks like mimicry might really be your own expression of joy at their good fortune. What if you meet someone who gets too excited about things that you don’t think are all that exciting, and you no longer think that this person’s smiles mean that something good happened? Would you still “mimic” their smiles?
In this project, we will test the hypothesis that observers only smile in response to happy faces if they believe that something good happened to the person who is smiling. Subjects will watch a video of another person who expresses a great deal of joy about something that the subjects think it is reasonable to be happy about, or about something that the subjects think it is unreasonable to be happy about. Subjects will see still images of the other person smiling, frowning, or showing a neutral face. Subjects’ own facial muscle activity will be recorded using facial electromyography to check for evidence of facial mimicry.

Technologies Involved: Eye tracking, skin conductance, ECG