The term ‘emotional contagion’ characterizes the impact of emotional display on the viewer. Hatfield, et al. consider the role of mimicry, the copying of physical characteristics, to be central to this process.
Step 1: A person has a sensory experience of another’s physical expression of emotion.
Step 2: They mimic the facial expression, body posture, or vocal characteristics.
Step 3: Feedback from the facial, or other, muscles of mimicry leads to the adoption of the emotion embedded in the original expression. Thus, perception drives mimicry drives emotions.
In the Wild Animals Experiment, however, there is no mimicry. The facial expression can only reflect, not cause, the emotion. Perception drives emotions. Thus, we show the impact of a visual display of emotion makes a ‘feedback’ step unnecessary for emotional contagion.
Step 1: A person views an image of an emotional relationship.
Step 2: In response, the person feels the emotion.
Step 3: The emotional experience creates a facial micro-expression.
Further investigation of our emotional contagion findings includes examination of the moment-by-moment course of emotional response to relational content (Family, Bonding, and Romance) as well as comparison to the weaker responses to Portrait and Full Body photos.