Research using new technology shows that our ability to imitate facial expressions depends on learning that occurs through visual feedback.
Studies of the chameleon effect confirm what salespeople, tricksters, and Lotharios have long known: Imitating another person's postures and expressions is an important social lubricant. But how do we learn to imitate with any accuracy when we can't see our own facial expressions and we can't feel the facial expressions of others?
Richard Cook of City University London, Alan Johnston of University College London, and Cecilia Heyes of the University of Oxford investigate possible mechanisms underlying our ability to imitate in two studies published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
In the first experiment, the researchers videotaped participants as they recited jokes and then asked them to imitate four randomly selected facial expressions from their videos. When they achieved what they perceived to be the target expression, the participants recorded the attempt with the click of a computer mouse.
A computer program evaluated the accuracy of participants' imitation attempts against a map of the target expression. In contrast to previous studies that relied on subjective assessments, this new technology allowed for automated and objective measurement of imitative accuracy.
In one experiment, the researchers found that participants who were able to see their imitation attempts through visual feedback improved over successive attempts. But participants who had to rely solely on proprioception – sensing the relative position of their facial features – got progressively worse.
These results are consistent with the associative sequence-learning model, which holds that our ability to imitate accurately depends on learned associations between what we see (in the mirror or through feedback from others) and what we feel.
Cook and colleagues conclude that contingent visual feedback may be a useful component of rehabilitation and skill-training programs that are designed to improve individuals' ability to imitate facial gestures.
Association for Psychological Science: http://www.psychologicalscience.org
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Fourteen-year global trial finds 86% of women can be diagnosed correctly by tracking level of protein in blood
British postgraduate students have devised a pocket-sized fingerprint scanner designed to help patients in the developing world get improved access to healthcare.
These days we consider good humor and leisure time to be crucial to our happiness
Football managers and people climbing the corporate ladder face choices about how to chase the ultimate prize. Now game theory suggests what's best
Just 8 percent of doctors practicing urology are female. But urologists treat kidneys and urinary tracts, not just prostates and penises. That male-focused image may be scaring patients away.
Volunteers in Sweden were tricked into thinking their bodies had vanished, and the "superpower" seemed to ease social fears
Scientists have for the first time captured how taste sensations are processed on the tongue
Researchers set hungry mosquitoes loose on identical and fraternal twins. They found that inherited genes do play a role in making you a mosquito magnet.
State education committee passes a bill banning parents exempting kids from vaccination because of "personal beliefs", as lawmakers around the world discuss similar measures
The torturous trial-and-error process of finding the best cancer drug for an individual could be a thing of the past thanks to a couple of clever devices