When Action Meets Emotions: How Facial Displays of Emotion Influence Goal-Related Behavior
Many authors have proposed that facial expressions, by conveying emotional states of the person we are interacting with, influence the interaction behavior. We aimed at verifying how specific the effect is of the facial expressions of emotions of an individual (both their valence and relevance/specificity for the purpose of the action) with respect to how the action aimed at the same individual is executed. In addition, we investigated whether and how the effects of emotions on action execution
... are modulated by participants' empathic attitudes. We used a kinematic approach to analyze the simulation of feeding others, which consisted of recording the "feeding trajectory" by using a computer mouse. Actors could express different highly arousing emotions, namely happiness, disgust, anger, or a neutral expression. Response time was sensitive to the interaction between valence and relevance/specificity of emotion: disgust caused faster response. In addition, happiness induced slower feeding time and longer time to peak velocity, but only in blocks where it alternated with expressions of disgust. The kinematic profiles described how the effect of the specificity of the emotional context for feeding, namely a modulation of accuracy requirements, occurs. An early acceleration in kinematic relative-to-neutral feeding profiles occurred when actors expressed positive emotions (happiness) in blocks with specific-to-feeding negative emotions (disgust). On the other hand, the end-part of the action was slower when feeding happy with respect to neutral faces, confirming the increase of accuracy requirements and motor control. These kinematic effects were modulated by participants' empathic attitudes. In conclusion, the social dimension of emotions, that is, their ability to modulate others' action planning/execution, strictly depends on their relevance and specificity to the purpose of the action. This finding argues against a strict distinction between social and nonsocial emotions.