Why we smile, when someone smiles in front of us?

Smile (Image Source: dhss.delaware.gov)
Smile (Image Source: dhss.delaware.gov)

Main Points:

We smile, when others smile, and we feel sad, when we see others feeling sad, because we are just trying to know their feelings by mimicking their expressions, involuntarily.

Published in:

Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Study Further:

Researchers have reported that almost all of the facial expressions are contagious, and everyone tries to copy or mimic the smiles or frowns (expressions) of other person while talking with him or her, because this copy of other’s expressions helps in understanding his or her feelings or emotions. This understanding is further helpful in making appropriate decisions in making interactions with that person.

Study shows that “sensorimotor simulation” in our brains causes this strange nature of copying others while talking with them. Perception of emotion of others is caused by automatic activity in certain parts of the brain such as pre- and primary-motor as well as somatosensory cortices, i.e. sensorimotor simulation, thereby changing facial expressions to understand the expressions and emotions of others.

Simulation and the Recognition of Facial Expression (Image source: Wood et al., 2016)
Simulation and the Recognition of Facial Expression (Image source: Wood et al., 2016)

“When people simulate a perceived facial expression, they partially activate the corresponding emotional state in themselves, which provides a basis for inferring the underlying emotion of the expresser,” researchers noted in the study.

Review also shows that a person’s ability to understand other person’s emotions can be inhibited, when he or she is unable to mimic the other person’s expressions as, for example, in several disorders such as facial paralysis or autism. Therefore, study of emotions and their relation with vision can also be considered important in future studies.

“Deeper understanding of the complex interplay of vision processing, sensorimotor simulation, learning, and evolved emotion states will inform interventions for people suffering from central or peripheral motor diseases, as well as for disorders associated with mimicry and/or emotion recognition impairments,” researchers noted.

Say “Cheese”…


Wood, A., Rychlowska, M., Korb, S., & Niedenthal, P. (2016). Fashioning the Face: Sensorimotor Simulation Contributes to Facial Expression Recognition Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20 (3), 227-240 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.12.010

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is a sort of entrepreneur. He is the author of "Color Atlas of Statistics", and the owner of an Android game "Faily Rocket."