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Body Cues, Not Facial Expressions, Discriminate Between Intense Positive and Negative Emotions

Science  30 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6111, pp. 1225-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224313

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Abstract

The distinction between positive and negative emotions is fundamental in emotion models. Intriguingly, neurobiological work suggests shared mechanisms across positive and negative emotions. We tested whether similar overlap occurs in real-life facial expressions. During peak intensities of emotion, positive and negative situations were successfully discriminated from isolated bodies but not faces. Nevertheless, viewers perceived illusory positivity or negativity in the nondiagnostic faces when seen with bodies. To reveal the underlying mechanisms, we created compounds of intense negative faces combined with positive bodies, and vice versa. Perceived affect and mimicry of the faces shifted systematically as a function of their contextual body emotion. These findings challenge standard models of emotion expression and highlight the role of the body in expressing and perceiving emotions.

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