Area of Study
Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Research suggests that interpretation of facial emotion expressions, such as happy or sad, is influenced by current mood. In particular, those in an “elevated” mood see faces as happier, while those in “lower” moods see these same faces as being sadder. This phenomenon may be due to the idea of empathy, or one’s ability to feel what another person is feeling. Thus, those in a “bad mood” will empathize more with faces that they deem to be sad because it is what they can currently easily experience themselves. Empathy has also been linked to the human mirror neuron system (MNS), specialized areas of the brain which allow a person to “mirror” in their mind the actions of another and therefore infer the intention of the action. This study examined at the link between MNS activity, everyday mood fluctuations, and empathy. Current mood was assessed with established and validated measures. Participants were asked to view and rate face as “happy” or “sad” while MNS activity was measured via electroencephalography (EEG). The results found that those in a more elevated mood found more neutral faces to be happy than those in a lower mood. Similarly, the elevated individuals had more of a MNS response to those faces they found happy and those in a lower mood had more of a MNS response to the faces they found to be sad. This suggests that the human MNS is involved in mood-congruency perceptual effects.
Olfson, Laurel, "EEG study of perceptual bias in facial expressions, mood, and the mirror-neuron system" (2014). Summer Research. 222.
University of Puget Sound