Emotion Regulation through Movement: Unique Sets of Movement Characteristics are Associated with and Enhance Basic Emotions

Front Psychol. 2016 Jan 11;6:2030. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02030. eCollection 2015.


We have recently demonstrated that motor execution, observation, and imagery of movements expressing certain emotions can enhance corresponding affective states and therefore could be used for emotion regulation. But which specific movement(s) should one use in order to enhance each emotion? This study aimed to identify, using Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), the Laban motor elements (motor characteristics) that characterize movements whose execution enhances each of the basic emotions: anger, fear, happiness, and sadness. LMA provides a system of symbols describing its motor elements, which gives a written instruction (motif) for the execution of a movement or movement-sequence over time. Six senior LMA experts analyzed a validated set of video clips showing whole body dynamic expressions of anger, fear, happiness and sadness, and identified the motor elements that were common to (appeared in) all clips expressing the same emotion. For each emotion, we created motifs of different combinations of the motor elements common to all clips of the same emotion. Eighty subjects from around the world read and moved those motifs, to identify the emotion evoked when moving each motif and to rate the intensity of the evoked emotion. All subjects together moved and rated 1241 motifs, which were produced from 29 different motor elements. Using logistic regression, we found a set of motor elements associated with each emotion which, when moved, predicted the feeling of that emotion. Each emotion was predicted by a unique set of motor elements and each motor element predicted only one emotion. Knowledge of which specific motor elements enhance specific emotions can enable emotional self-regulation through adding some desired motor qualities to one's personal everyday movements (rather than mimicking others' specific movements) and through decreasing motor behaviors which include elements that enhance negative emotions.

Keywords: Laban Movement Analysis; affect; bodily expression; embodiment; emotion; emotion regulation; motor characteristic; movement.