Facial expressions are contagious
Ulf Dimberg, Uppsala University
Press Release 28 March 2000

Consistent with Darwin's proposition that facial expressions of emotion have a biological basis, one has proposed that they are being controlled by particular "facial affect programs".

If human facial expressions were generated by biologically given affect programs, one would expect these programs to operate automatically by eliciting facial muscle reactions spontaneously and independently of any conscious process. This has been the object for Ulf Dimbergs research at the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University.

In a study conducted on 120 students, Ulf Dimberg and his research team has measured the facial muscle activity while the audience was exposed to pictures of happy and angry faces. By the help of a masking technique in combination with a very brief exposure, the students were not consciously aware of the exposure.

The study demonstrated that distinct positive and negative facial emotional response patterns could be spontaneously evoked without the awareness of the positive or negative stimuli. The results suggest that the initial facial reactions are controlled by rapidly operating "affect programs" that can be triggered independently of a conscious cognitive process. This supports the theory that important aspects of emotional face-to-face communication can occur on a subconscious level.

For further information, please contact professor Ulf Dimberg ulf.dimberg@psyk.uu.se.



Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles