Automatic facial mimicry in response to dynamic emotional stimuli in five-monthold infants

Tomoko Isomura*, Tamami Nakano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Human adults automatically mimic others’ emotional expressions, which is believed to contribute to sharing emotions with others. Although this behaviour appears fundamental to social reciprocity, little is known about its developmental process. Therefore, we examined whether infants show automatic facial mimicry in response to others’ emotional expressions. Facial electromyographic activity over the corrugator supercilii (brow) and zygomaticus major (cheek) of four-to five-month-old infants was measured while they viewed dynamic clips presenting audiovisual, visual and auditory emotions. The audiovisual bimodal emotion stimuli were a display of a laughing/crying facial expression with an emotionally congruent vocalization, whereas the visual/auditory unimodal emotion stimuli displayed those emotional faces/vocalizations paired with a neutral vocalization/face, respectively. Increased activation of the corrugator supercilii muscle in response to audiovisual cries and the zygomaticus major in response to audiovisual laughter were observed between 500 and 1000 ms after stimulus onset, which clearly suggests rapid facial mimicry. By contrast, both visual and auditory unimodal emotion stimuli did not activate the infants’ corresponding muscles. These results revealed that automatic facial mimicry is present as early as five months of age, when multimodal emotional information is present.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20161948
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1844
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec 14
Externally publishedYes


  • EMG
  • Emotion
  • Facial mimicry
  • Infants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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