Emotion expression in body action and posture

Emotion. 2012 Oct;12(5):1085-101. doi: 10.1037/a0025737. Epub 2011 Nov 7.


Emotion communication research strongly focuses on the face and voice as expressive modalities, leaving the rest of the body relatively understudied. Contrary to the early assumption that body movement only indicates emotional intensity, recent studies have shown that body movement and posture also conveys emotion specific information. However, a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms is hampered by a lack of production studies informed by a theoretical framework. In this research we adopted the Body Action and Posture (BAP) coding system to examine the types and patterns of body movement that are employed by 10 professional actors to portray a set of 12 emotions. We investigated to what extent these expression patterns support explicit or implicit predictions from basic emotion theory, bidimensional theory, and componential appraisal theory. The overall results showed partial support for the different theoretical approaches. They revealed that several patterns of body movement systematically occur in portrayals of specific emotions, allowing emotion differentiation. Although a few emotions were prototypically expressed by one particular pattern, most emotions were variably expressed by multiple patterns, many of which can be explained as reflecting functional components of emotion such as modes of appraisal and action readiness. It is concluded that further work in this largely underdeveloped area should be guided by an appropriate theoretical framework to allow a more systematic design of experiments and clear hypothesis testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression
  • Gestures
  • Humans
  • Movement*
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Posture*
  • Psychological Theory