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The Simulation of Smiles (SIMS) model: Embodied simulation and the meaning of facial expression

  • Paula M. Niedenthal (a1), Martial Mermillod (a2), Marcus Maringer (a3) and Ursula Hess (a4)

Recent application of theories of embodied or grounded cognition to the recognition and interpretation of facial expression of emotion has led to an explosion of research in psychology and the neurosciences. However, despite the accelerating number of reported findings, it remains unclear how the many component processes of emotion and their neural mechanisms actually support embodied simulation. Equally unclear is what triggers the use of embodied simulation versus perceptual or conceptual strategies in determining meaning. The present article integrates behavioral research from social psychology with recent research in neurosciences in order to provide coherence to the extant and future research on this topic. The roles of several of the brain's reward systems, and the amygdala, somatosensory cortices, and motor centers are examined. These are then linked to behavioral and brain research on facial mimicry and eye gaze. Articulation of the mediators and moderators of facial mimicry and gaze are particularly useful in guiding interpretation of relevant findings from neurosciences. Finally, a model of the processing of the smile, the most complex of the facial expressions, is presented as a means to illustrate how to advance the application of theories of embodied cognition in the study of facial expression of emotion.

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