SATO Wataru Laboratory

An investigation of the modulatory effects of empathic and autistic traits on emotional and facial motor responses during live social interactions

(Hsu, Sato, & Yoshikawa: PLoS One)

A close relationship between emotional contagion and spontaneous facial mimicry has been theoretically proposed and is supported by empirical data.
Facial expressions are essential in terms of both emotional and motor synchrony.
Previous studies have demonstrated that trait emotional empathy enhanced spontaneous facial mimicry, but the relationship between autistic traits and spontaneous mimicry remained controversial.
Moreover, previous studies presented faces that were static or videotaped, which may lack the glivelinessh of real-life social interactions.

We addressed this limitation by using an image relay system to present live performances and pre-recorded videos of smiling or frowning dynamic facial expressions to 94 healthy female participants.
We assessed their subjective experiential valence and arousal ratings to infer the amplitude of emotional contagion.
We measured the electromyographic activities of the zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii muscles to estimate spontaneous facial mimicry.
Individual differences measures included trait emotional empathy (empathic concern) and the autism-spectrum quotient.

We did not find that live performances enhanced the modulatory effect of trait differences on emotional contagion or spontaneous facial mimicry.
However, we found that a high trait empathic concern was associated with stronger emotional contagion and corrugator mimicry.
We found no two-way interaction between the autism spectrum quotient and emotional condition, suggesting that autistic traits did not modulate emotional contagion or spontaneous facial mimicry.

Our findings imply that previous findings regarding the relationship between emotional empathy and emotional contagion/spontaneous facial mimicry using videos and photos could be generalized to real-life interactions.

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