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.
Findings published in The Lancet show chance of heart attack drops by 48% when people most at risk take cholesterol-lowering medications
Paranoid fears are common and have a variety of causes but new research shows specific issue cognitive behaviour therapy can bring significant benefits
Popular belief has it that human ‘sex pheromones’ exist and are well-established by the scientific community. But all is not as it seems, as Tristram Wyatt explains
Toward the end of World War II, the Nazis blocked all food and fuel supplies to the Netherlands, leading to famine. Many babies born during this famine suffered long-term effects, including a higher incidence of a variety of conditions such as heart disease, obesity, glucose intolerance, and obstructed airways.
Your girlfriend is right. Adults can expect to get flu only twice every 10 years, suggests an analysis of the antibodies in people's blood
Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries - a known risk factor for heart disease - South Korean researchers believe.
Researchers in China produce a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB.
The first model of a zombie epidemic to use real US census data lets you choose where the plague begins and how fast it spreads
Revealing new details about the origins of AIDS, scientists said on Monday half the lineages of the main type of human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-1, originated in gorillas in Cameroon before infecting people, probably via bushmeat hunting.
Few doctors — and few patients — realize just how profoundly early abuse, neglect and other childhood traumas can damage an adult's physical health.