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.
Dr Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust says international community is belatedly taking actions necessary to stem tide of disease
Miniature stomachs gastric organoids will help in study of ulcers and could be used in future to repair patients stomachs
The story of the vaccines development is just one part of a rich and intertwined history of scientific discovery and controversy
A highly sensitive blood test for Ebola exists, so why isn't it being used to test all returning health workers from West Africa? Because the virus isn't in the blood in the first stages of infection.
Drinking beverages enriched with compounds found in cocoa beans improved older adults' performances on a memory test – but there's a catch
A 700-year-old caribou dropping from northern Canada holds surprisingly well-preserved viruses. There's no evidence the viruses are dangerous, but they are scientifically interesting.
The New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial against quarantining people who have worked with Ebola patients in Africa. Renee Montagne speaks with Dr. Lindsey Baden, one of the authors.
Surgeons in Australia say they have performed the first heart transplant using a "dead heart".
Ebola underlines the urgent need for a new way of responding to global epidemics, say Harvey Rubin and Nicholas Saidel
As researchers from Africa to China to America race to develop vaccines and treatments to fight Ebola, health experts are grappling with the economics of a disease that until this year had been off the drug industry's radar.