Three-year-olds’ rapid facial electromyographic responses to emotional facial expressions and body postures

Elena Geangu, Ermanno Quadrelli, Stefania Conte, Emanuela Croci, Chiara Turati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rapid Facial Reactions (RFRs) to observed emotional expressions are proposed to be involved in a wide array of socioemotional skills, from empathy to social communication. Two of the most persuasive theoretical accounts propose RFRs to rely either on motor resonance mechanisms or on more complex mechanisms involving affective processes. Previous studies demonstrated that presentation of facial and bodily expressions can generate rapid changes in adult and school age children’s muscle activity. However, up to date, there is little to no evidence to suggest the existence of emotional RFRs from infancy to preschool age. To investigate whether RFRs are driven by motor mimicry or could also be a result of emotional appraisal processes, we recorded facial electromyographic (EMG) activation from the zygomaticus major and frontalis medialis muscles to presentation of static facial and bodily expressions of emotions (i.e, happiness, anger, fear and neutral) in 3-years old children. Results showed no specific EMG activation in response to bodily emotion expressions. However, observing others’ happy faces lead to the increased activation of the zygomaticus major and decreased activation of the frontalis medialis, while observing angry faces elicited the opposite pattern of activation. This study suggests that RFRs are the result of complex mechanisms in which both affective processes and motor resonance may play an important role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date11 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

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