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Journal Articles Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts Year : 2023

Facial reactions to face representations in art: An electromyography study

Amel Achour-Benallegue
David Amarantini
Jérôme Pelletier
Gwenaël Kaminski


Facial mimicry is a reaction to facial expressions. It plays a role in social interaction. Indeed, scholars associated facial mimicry with emotional contagion and understanding others' mental states such as intentions. This is the case for facial mimicry toward human facial expressions, but we know that facial expressions are widely depicted in art through face representations (visual creations that depict facial expressions). However, despite face representation involvement in social interactions, facial reactions toward face representations in art are still unknown. The reason could be that interaction with art objects is usually analyzed within anthropology and art theories, such as conveying social agencies (a desire of action, intentions). Here, we show that facial mimicry is also observed toward face representations. This could be a means that might facilitate social interaction includingemotions. Using the electromyography technique, we could show that participants mimic involuntarily face representations when these depict mouth expressions. Participant's zygomaticus and depressor were significantly activated when the pictures depict an expression including zygomaticus or depressor representation respectively. This result led us to infer that when it comes to mouth expressions, face representations in art might trigger spontaneously emotional contagion (of the expressed emotion). It might also convey information about the expressed mental states, which might help to indicate social agencies. Mimicry could participate to explain partly the social agencies of art, that might be no more just abstract concepts, but could find a real correlate in cognitive processes.
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hal-03882090 , version 1 (03-02-2023)



Amel Achour-Benallegue, David Amarantini, Pierre-Vincent Paubel, Jérôme Pelletier, Gwenaël Kaminski. Facial reactions to face representations in art: An electromyography study. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 2023, 17 (6), pp.793-805. ⟨10.1037/aca0000423⟩. ⟨hal-03882090⟩
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