Covert facial mimicry involves subtle facial muscle activation in observers when they perceive the facial emotional expressions of others. It remains uncertain whether prototypical facial features in emotional expressions are being covertly mimicked and also whether covert facial mimicry involves distinct facial muscle activation patterns across muscles per emotion category, or simply distinguishes positive versus negative valence in observed facial emotions. To test whether covert facial mimicry is emotion-specific, we measured facial electromyography (EMG) from five muscle sites (corrugator supercilii, levator labii, frontalis lateralis, depressor anguli oris, zygomaticus major) whilst participants watched videos of people expressing 9 different basic and complex emotions and a neutral expression. This study builds upon previous research by including a greater number of facial muscle measures and emotional expressions. It is the first study to investigate activation patterns across muscles during facial mimicry and to provide evidence for distinct patterns of facial muscle activation when viewing individual emotion categories, suggesting that facial mimicry is emotion-specific, rather than just valence-based.
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