The Impact of Experience on Affective Responses during Action Observation

PLoS One. 2016 May 5;11(5):e0154681. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154681. eCollection 2016.


Perceiving others in action elicits affective and aesthetic responses in observers. The present study investigates the extent to which these responses relate to an observer's general experience with observed movements. Facial electromyographic (EMG) responses were recorded in experienced dancers and non-dancers as they watched short videos of movements performed by professional ballet dancers. Responses were recorded from the corrugator supercilii (CS) and zygomaticus major (ZM) muscles, both of which show engagement during the observation of affect-evoking stimuli. In the first part of the experiment, participants passively watched the videos while EMG data were recorded. In the second part, they explicitly rated how much they liked each movement. Results revealed a relationship between explicit affective judgments of the movements and facial muscle activation only among those participants who were experienced with the movements. Specifically, CS activity was higher for disliked movements and ZM activity was higher for liked movements among dancers but not among non-dancers. The relationship between explicit liking ratings and EMG data in experienced observers suggests that facial muscles subtly echo affective judgments even when viewing actions that are not intentionally emotional in nature, thus underscoring the potential of EMG as a method to examine subtle shifts in implicit affective responses during action observation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Electromyography
  • Facial Muscles / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This research was supported by a Pomona College Summer Undergraduate Research Program internship travel grant to A.S. and a Future Research Leaders Award from the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K001892/1;, a VENI award from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (451-11-002;, and a Marie Curie Career Integration grant (CIG11-2012-322256; to E.S.C. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.