Bodily action penetrates affective perception

PeerJ. 2016 Feb 15;4:e1677. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1677. eCollection 2016.


Fantoni & Gerbino (2014) showed that subtle postural shifts associated with reaching can have a strong hedonic impact and affect how actors experience facial expressions of emotion. Using a novel Motor Action Mood Induction Procedure (MAMIP), they found consistent congruency effects in participants who performed a facial emotion identification task after a sequence of visually-guided reaches: a face perceived as neutral in a baseline condition appeared slightly happy after comfortable actions and slightly angry after uncomfortable actions. However, skeptics about the penetrability of perception (Zeimbekis & Raftopoulos, 2015) would consider such evidence insufficient to demonstrate that observer's internal states induced by action comfort/discomfort affect perception in a top-down fashion. The action-modulated mood might have produced a back-end memory effect capable of affecting post-perceptual and decision processing, but not front-end perception. Here, we present evidence that performing a facial emotion detection (not identification) task after MAMIP exhibits systematic mood-congruent sensitivity changes, rather than response bias changes attributable to cognitive set shifts; i.e., we show that observer's internal states induced by bodily action can modulate affective perception. The detection threshold for happiness was lower after fifty comfortable than uncomfortable reaches; while the detection threshold for anger was lower after fifty uncomfortable than comfortable reaches. Action valence induced an overall sensitivity improvement in detecting subtle variations of congruent facial expressions (happiness after positive comfortable actions, anger after negative uncomfortable actions), in the absence of significant response bias shifts. Notably, both comfortable and uncomfortable reaches impact sensitivity in an approximately symmetric way relative to a baseline inaction condition. All of these constitute compelling evidence of a genuine top-down effect on perception: specifically, facial expressions of emotion are penetrable by action-induced mood. Affective priming by action valence is a candidate mechanism for the influence of observer's internal states on properties experienced as phenomenally objective and yet loaded with meaning.

Keywords: Action; Adaptation; Embodied; Emotion; Face perception; Induction; Mood; Motor; Penetrability; Perception.

Grant support

This work was supported by the University of Trieste (FRA-2013 Grant to CF). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.