Emotional Empathy, Facial Reactions, and Facial Feedback

Detta är en avhandling från Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Sammanfattning: The human face has a fascinating capability to express emotions. The facial feedback hypothesis suggests that the human face not only expresses emotions but is also able to send feedback to the brain and modulate the ongoing emotional experience. It has furthermore been suggested that this feedback from the facial muscles could be involved in empathic reactions. This thesis explores the concept of emotional empathy and relates it to two aspects concerning activity in the facial muscles. First, do people high versus low in emotional empathy differ in regard to in what degree they spontaneously mimic emotional facial expressions? Second, is there any difference between people with high as compared to low emotional empathy in respect to how sensitive they are to feedback from their own facial muscles? Regarding the first question, people with high emotional empathy were found to spontaneously mimic pictures of emotional facial expressions while people with low emotional empathy were lacking this mimicking reaction. The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated. People with low emotional empathy were found to rate humorous films as funnier in a manipulated sulky facial expression than in a manipulated happy facial expression, whereas people with high emotional empathy did not react significantly. On the other hand, when the facial manipulations were a smile and a frown, people with low as well as high emotional empathy reacted in line with the facial feedback hypothesis. In conclusion, the experiments in the present thesis indicate that mimicking and feedback from the facial muscles may be involved in emotional contagion and thereby influence emotional empathic reactions. Thus, differences in emotional empathy may in part be accounted for by different degree of mimicking reactions and different emotional effects of feedback from the facial muscles.