Washington: New studies have shed light on how human and primate brains process and interpret facial expressions, and the role of facial mimicry in everything from deciphering an unclear smile to establishing relationships of power and status.Facial mimicry — a social behaviour in which the observer automatically activates the same facial muscles as the person she is imitating — plays a role in learning, understanding, and rapport.Mimicry can activate muscles that control both smiles and frowns, and evoke their corresponding emotions, positive and negative. The studies reveal new roles of facial mimicry and some of its underlying brain circuitry.The new findings show that:Special brains cells dubbed “eye cells” activate in the amygdala of a monkey looking into the eyes of another monkey, even as the monkey mimics the expressions of its counterpart.Social status and self-perceptions of power affect facial mimicry, such that powerful individuals suppress their smile mimicry towards other high-status people, while powerless individuals mimic everyone’s smile.Brain imaging studies in monkeys have revealed the specific roles of different regions of the brain in understanding facial identity and emotional expression, including one brain region previously identified for its role in vocal processing.Subconscious facial mimicry plays a strong role in interpreting the meaning of ambiguous smiles.
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