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Psychol Sci. 2000 Jan;11(1):86-9.

Unconscious facial reactions to emotional facial expressions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Box 1225, S-751 42 Uppsala, Sweden.


Studies reveal that when people are exposed to emotional facial expressions, they spontaneously react with distinct facial electromyographic (EMG) reactions in emotion-relevant facial muscles. These reactions reflect, in part, a tendency to mimic the facial stimuli. We investigated whether corresponding facial reactions can be elicited when people are unconsciously exposed to happy and angry facial expressions. Through use of the backward-masking technique, the subjects were prevented from consciously perceiving 30-ms exposures of happy, neutral, and angry target faces, which immediately were followed and masked by neutral faces. Despite the fact that exposure to happy and angry faces was unconscious, the subjects reacted with distinct facial muscle reactions that corresponded to the happy and angry stimulus faces. Our results show that both positive and negative emotional reactions can be unconsciously evoked, and particularly that important aspects of emotional face-to-face communication can occur on an unconscious level.

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