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Emotional contagion refers to the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize our facial expressions with those of another person. Recent EMG studies have shown that emotionally-congruent expressive reactions in the observer's face may be also elicited by the perception of bodily expressions, thus challenging the view that emotional contagion is simply due to motor imitation based on conscious visual recognition. Here we investigated whether emotional contagion may be triggered by bodily expressions that cannot be consciously perceived. Facial EMG was recorded in response to the presentation of backwardly masked happy and fearful bodily expressions. The subjects reacted with emotionally-congruent facial expressions (i.e., greater zygomaticus major activity for happy expressions, and greater corrugator supercilli activity for fearful expressions), despite the fact that they were unable to consciously detect the triggering body stimuli. The present findings suggest that expressive facial reactions may unfold as an automatic response driven by the activation of emotion-specific affect programs that are independent from conscious visual recognition.
Date of Conference: 17-19 Sept. 2008