The development of spontaneous facial responses to others’ emotions in infancy. An EMG study

Jakob Kaiser, Maria Magdalena Crespo-Llado, Chiara Turati, Elena Geangu

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Viewing facial expressions often evokes facial responses in the observer. These spontaneous facial reactions (SFRs) are believed to play an important role for social interactions. However, their developmental trajectory and the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms are still little understood. In the current study, 4- and 7-month old infants were presented with facial expressions of happiness, anger, and fear. Electromyography (EMG) was used to measure activation in muscles relevant for forming these expressions: zygomaticus major (smiling), corrugator supercilii (frowning), and frontalis (forehead raising). The results indicated no selective activation of the facial muscles for the expressions in 4-month-old infants. For 7-month-old infants, evidence for selective facial reactions was found especially for happy faces (leading to increased zygomaticus major activation) and fearful faces (leading to increased frontalis activation), while angry faces did not show a clear differential response. This suggests that emotional SFRs may be the result of complex neurocognitive mechanisms which lead to partial mimicry but are also likely to be influenced by evaluative processes. Such mechanisms seem to undergo important developments at least until the second half of the first year of life.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2017

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