Facial mimicry is independent of stimulus format: Evidence for facial mimicry of stick figures and photographs

Janet Weßler*, Jochim Hansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The present research investigated facial mimicry of the basic emotions joy, anger, and sadness in response to stimuli in different formats. Specifically, in an electromyography study, 120 participants rated the expressions of joyful, angry, and sad faces presented as photographs or stick figures while facial muscle activity was measured. Using both frequentist and Bayesian approaches to hypothesis testing, we found strong support for a facial mimicry effect: Participants showed higher zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi activity (smiling) towards joyful faces, while they showed higher corrugator supercilii activity (frowning) towards angry and sad faces. Although participants rated the stick figures as more abstract and less interesting stimuli, the mimicry effect was equally strong and independent of the format in which the faces were presented (photographs or stick figures). Additionally, participants showed enhanced emotion recognition for stick figures compared to photographs, which, however, was unrelated to mimicry. The findings suggest that facial mimicry occurs in response to stimuli varying in their abstractness and might be more robust to social-cognitive influences than previously assumed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103249
Number of pages8
JournalActa Psychologica
Early online date8 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 501 Psychology


  • Facial mimicry
  • Imitation
  • Electromyography
  • Emotion

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