Facial feedback hypothesis

Facial feedback hypothesis

The facial feedback hypothesis states that facial movement can influence emotional experience. For example, an individual who is forced to smile during a social event will actually come to find the event more of an enjoyable experience.


The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions... Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.(Darwin, 1872, p366) [http://pages.britishlibrary.net/charles.darwin3/expression/expression14.htm]

Charles Darwin was among the first to suggest that physiological changes caused by an emotion had a direct impact "on", rather than being just the consequence "of" that emotion.

Refuse to express a passion, and it dies (James, 1890, p463) [http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin25.htm]

Following on this idea, William James proposed that contrary to common belief, awareness of bodily changes activated by a stimulus "is" the emotion" (1890, p449). If no bodily changes are felt, there is only an intellectual thought, devoid of emotional warmth.

This proved difficult to test, and apart from studies of people with severely impaired emotional functioning, and some animal research, little evidence was available. The facial feedback hypothesis, "that skeletal muscle feedback from facial expressions plays a causal role in regulating emotional experience and behaviour" (Buck, 1980, p813) developed almost a century after Darwin.

Development of the theory

While James included the influence of all bodily changes on the creation of an emotion, "including among them visceral, muscular, and cutaneous effects" (Adelmann & Zajonc, 1989, p252), modern research mainly focusses on the effects of facial muscular activity. One of the first to do so, Tomkins wrote in 1962: "...the face expresses affect, both to others and the self, via feedback, which is more rapid and more complex than any stimulation of which the slower moving visceral organs are capable" (Aldemann & Zajonc, 1989, p255).

Two versions of the facial feedback hypothesis appeared, although "these distinctions have not always been consistent" (Zajonc, Murphy & Inglehart, 1989, p396).

* The "weak" version, introduced by Darwin, sees the feedback intensify or reduce an emotion already present. McCanne & Anderson (1987) instructed participants to suppress or increase the zygomatic or corrugator muscle while imagining pleasant or unpleasant scenes. Subsequent alteration of the emotional response was shown to have occurred.
*The "strong" version implies that facial feedback by itself can create the whole emotion.

According to Browndyke (2002, p3), "the strongest evidence for the facial feedback hypothesis to date comes from research by Lanzetta et al (1976)". Participants had lower skin conductance and subjective ratings of pain when hiding the painfulness of the shocks they endured, compared with those who expressed intense pain.

In all research, however, difficulty remained in how to measure an effect without alerting the participant to the nature of the study and how to ensure that the connection between facial activity and corresponding emotion is not implicit in the procedure.

Methodological issues

Originally, the facial feedback hypothesis studied the enhancing or suppressing effect of facial efference on emotion in the context of spontaneous, "real" emotions, using stimuli. This resulted in "the inability of research using spontaneous efference to separate correlation from causality" (Adelmann & Zajonc, 1989, p264). Laird (1974) used a cover story (measuring muscular facial activity with electrodes) to induce particular facial muscles contraction in his participants without mentioning any emotional state. However, the higher funniness ratings of the cartoons obtained by those participants "tricked" into smiling may have been caused by their recognising the muscular contraction and its corresponding emotion: the "self-perception mechanism", which Laird (1974) thought was at the root of the facial feedback phenomenon. Perceiving physiological changes, people "fill the blank" by feeling the corresponding emotion. In the original studies, Laird had to exclude 16% (Study 1) and 19% (Study 2) of the participants as they had become aware of the physical and emotional connection during the study. Another difficulty is whether the process of manipulation of the facial muscles did not cause so much exertion and fatigue that those, partially or wholly, caused the physiological changes and subsequently the emotion.Finally, the presence of physiological change may have been induced or modified by cognitive process.

track, Martin & Stepper's test of the hypothesis

In an attempt to provide a clear assessment of the theory that a purely physical facial change, involving only certain facial muscles, can result in an emotion, Strack, Martin, & Stepper (1988) devised a cover story that would ensure the participants adopt the desired facial posing without being able to perceive either the corresponding emotion or the researchers' real motive. Told they were taking part in a study to determine the difficulty for people without the use of their hands or arms to accomplish certain tasks, participants held a pen in their mouth in one of three ways. The Lip position would contract the orbicularis oris muscle, resulting in a frown. The Teeth position would cause the zygomaticus major or the risorius muscle, resulting in a smile. The control group would hold the pen in their nondominant hand. All had to fill a questionnaire in that position and rate the difficulty involved. The last task, which was the real objective of the test, was their objective, then subjective rating of the funiness of a cartoon. The test differed from previous methods in that there were no emotional states to emulate, dissimulate or exaggerate. As predicted, participants in the Teeth condition reported significantly higher amusement ratings than those in the Lips condition. The cover story and the procedure were found to be very successful at initiating the required contraction of the muscles without arising suspiscion, 'cognitive interpretation of the facial action (Strack, Martin & Stepper, 1988), and avoiding significant demand and order effects. It has been suggested that more effort may be involved in holding a pen with the lips compared with the teeth (Zajonc, Murphy & Inglehart, 1989, p396). However, it has resolved many of the methodological issues associated with the facial feedback hypothesis. Darwin's theory can be demonstrated, and the moderate, yet significant effect of this theory of emotions opens the door to exciting new research on the "multiple and nonmutually exclusive plausible mechanisms" (McIntosh, 1996) of the effects of facial activity on emotions.

ee also

*Emotion#Theoretical traditions
*Facial Action Coding System
*James-Lange theory



*Darwin, C. (1872). "The Expression of the emotions in man and animals." London:John Murray, 366. [http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=F1142&viewtype=text&pageseq=1 Fulltext]
*James, W. (1890). "The principles of Psychology". [http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin25.htm Fulltext]


*Adelmann, P. K. & Zajonc, R. B. (1989). Facial efference and the experience of emotion. "Annual Review of Psychology", "40", 249-280.
*Browndyke, J. N. (2002). Neuropsycholosocial factors in emotion recognition: Facial expressions. [http://www.neuropsychologycentral.com/interface/content/resources/page_material/resources_general_materials_pages/resources_document_pages/neuropsychosocial_factors_in_emotion_recognition.pdf Fulltext]
*Buck, R. (1980). Nonverbal behavior and the theory of emotion: the facial feedback hypothesis. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", "38", 811-824.
*Laird, J. D. (1974). Self-attribution of emotion: The effects of expressive behavior on the quality of emotional experience. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", "29(4)", 475-486.
*Lanzetta, J. T., Cartwright-Smith J. & Eleck, R. E. (1976). Effects of nonverbal dissimulation on emotional experience and autonomic arousal. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "33(3)", 354-370.
*McCanne, T. R. & Anderson, J. A. (1987). Emotional responding following experimental manipulation of facial electromyographic activity. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", "52(4)", 759-768.
*McIntosh, D. N. (1996). Facial feedback hypotheses: Evidence, implications, and directions. "Motivation and Emotion", "20(2)", 121-147.
*Strack, F., Martin, 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", 768-777. PMID: 3379579
*Zajonc, R. B., Murphy, S. T. & Inglehart, M. (1989). Feeling and facial efference: Implications fo the vascular theory of emotion. "Psychological Review", "96(3)", 395-416. [http://psychology.stanford.edu/~lera/273/zajonc-psychreview-1989.pdf Fulltext]


*Andréasson, P., & Dimberg, U. (2008). [http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10919-008-0052-z Emotional empathy and facial feedback] . "Journal of Nonverbal Behavior".

External links

* Based on [http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Facial_Feedback_Hypothesis a Psychology Wiki article] licensed under the GFDL.

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