Niedenthal, P. M., Winkielman, P. Mondillon, L., & Vermeulen, N. (2009). Embodiment of Emotional Concepts: Evidence from EMG Measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1120–1136.
Theories of embodied cognition hold that higher cognitive processes operate on perceptual symbols, and that concept use involves partial reactivations of the sensory-motor states that occur during experience with the world. On this view, the processing of emotion knowledge involves a (partial) reexperience of an emotion, but only when access to the sensory basis of emotion knowledge is required by the task. In two experiments, participants judged emotional and neutral concepts corresponding to concrete objects (Experiment 1) and abstract states (Experiment 2) while facial electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from the cheek, brow, eye, and nose regions. Results of both studies show embodiment of specific emotions in an emotion-focused but not a perceptual-focused processing task on the same words. A follow-up Experiment 3, which blocked selective facial expressions, suggests a causal, rather than simply correlational role for embodiment in emotion word processing. Experiment 4, employing a property generation task, provided support for the conclusion that emotions embodied in conceptual tasks are context-dependent situated simulations rather than associated emotional reactions. Implications for theories of embodied simulation and for emotion theories are discussed.