Individuals differ in the extent to which they imitate others’ emotional expression and in their susceptibility to catch others’ feelings. Are these individual differences related to the ability to decode others’ emotions?
Being able to perceive and label others’ feelings is a central component of emotional competence. It can be assumed that both facial mimicry (i.e., the unintentional imitation of others’ non-verbal displays by an observer) and automatic emotional contagion (i.e., the unintentional catching of others’ moods) facilitate emotion recognition.
However, due to inconsistent findings in the literature, it is still an open question whether individual differences in the strength of mimicry reactions and the susceptibility to emotional contagion can explain individual differences in the ability to decode emotions in faces and voices.
In two studies, facial mimicry is measured via electromyography (EMG) and susceptibility to emotional contagion is measured via self-reported mood changes after a task that involves happy or sad stimuli. It is tested whether these individual difference variables predict decoding accuracy. Study 1 is based on visual stimuli, and Study 2 is based on auditory stimuli. Two moderator hypotheses are tested: Mimicry should facilitate decoding accuracy if individuals are high in body self-consciousness. Emotional contagion should facilitate decoding accuracy if individuals are high in clarity of feelings.
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