The Facial Feedback

The facial feedback effect has attracted a good deal of atten- tion. Is the effect of varying the face on self-reports of emotion reliable? Based on a meta-analysis of 138 studies, Nicholas Coles and colleagues (2019) concluded that the effect is real but small—and more impressive in some situations than others. In this regard, it’s important to keep in mind that although facial feedback can evoke and magnify certain emotional states, the face is not necessary to the subjective experience of emotion. When neuropsy-

chologists tested a young woman who suffered from bilateral facial paralysis, they found that despite her inability to outwardly show emotion, she reported feeling various emotions in response to positive and negative visual images.

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How does facial feedback work? With 80 muscles in the human face that can create over 7,000 expressions, can we actually vary our own emotions by contracting certain muscles and wearing different expressions? Research suggests that we can, though it is not clear what the results mean. Laird argues that facial expressions affect emotion through a process of self-perception: “If I’m smiling, I must be happy.” Consistent with this hypothesis, Chris Kleinke and others (1998) asked people to emulate either happy or angry facial expressions depicted in a series of photographs. Half the participants saw themselves in a mirror during the task; the others did not. Did these manipulations affect mood states? Yes. Com- pared to participants in a no-expression control group, those who put on happy faces felt better, and those who put on angry faces felt worse. As predicted by self-perception theory, the differences were particularly pronounced among par- ticipants who saw themselves in a mirror.

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