Embodied theories of emotion assume that emotional processing is grounded in bodily and affective processes. Accordingly, the perception of an emotion re-enacts congruent sensory and affective states; and conversely, bodily states congruent with a specific emotion facilitate emotional processing. This study tests whether the ability to process facial expressions (faces having a neutral expression, expressing fear, or disgust) can be influenced by making the participants' body state congruent with the expressed emotion (e.g., high heart rate in the case of faces expressing fear). We designed a task requiring participants to categorize pictures of male and female faces that either had a neutral expression (neutral), or expressed emotions whose linkage with high heart rate is strong (fear) or significantly weaker or absent (disgust). Critically, participants were tested in two conditions: with experimentally induced high heart rate (Exercise) and with normal heart rate (Normal). Participants processed fearful faces (but not disgusted or neutral faces) faster when they were in the Exercise condition than in the Normal condition. These results support the idea that an emotionally congruent body state facilitates the automatic processing of emotionally-charged stimuli and this effect is emotion-specific rather than due to generic factors such as arousal.
Increased heart rate after exercise facilitates the processing of fearful but not disgusted faces
Nature Publishing Group, London , Regno Unito
Scientific reports (Nature Publishing Group) 8 (2018). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18761-5