The role of movement kinematics in facial emotion expression production and recognition

Sophie Sowden, Bianca A Schuster, Connor T Keating, Dagmar S Fraser, Jennifer L Cook

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The kinematics of peoples' body movements provide useful cues about emotional states: for example, angry movements are typically fast and sad movements slow. Unlike the body movement literature, studies of facial expressions have focused on spatial, rather than kinematic, cues. This series of experiments demonstrates that speed comprises an important facial emotion expression cue. In Experiments 1a-1c we developed (N = 47) and validated (N = 27) an emotion-induction procedure, and recorded (N = 42) posed and spontaneous facial expressions of happy, angry, and sad emotional states. Our novel analysis pipeline quantified the speed of changes in distance between key facial landmarks. We observed that happy expressions were fastest, sad were slowest, and angry expressions were intermediate. In Experiment 2 (N = 67) we replicated our results for posed expressions and introduced a novel paradigm to index communicative emotional expressions. Across Experiments 1 and 2, we demonstrate differences between posed, spontaneous, and communicative expression contexts. Whereas mouth and eyebrow movements reliably distinguished emotions for posed and communicative expressions, only eyebrow movements were reliable for spontaneous expressions. In Experiments 3 and 4 we manipulated facial expression speed and demonstrated a quantifiable change in emotion recognition accuracy. That is, in a discovery (N = 29) and replication sample (N = 41), we showed that speeding up facial expressions promotes anger and happiness judgments, and slowing down expressions encourages sad judgments. This influence of kinematics on emotion recognition is dissociable from the influence of spatial cues. These studies demonstrate that the kinematics of facial movements provide added value, and an independent contribution to emotion recognition. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1061
Issue number5
Early online date4 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2021


  • emotion recognition
  • face tracking software
  • facial emotion expression
  • kinematics
  • speed


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