Humans recognize the facial expressions of others rapidly and effortlessly. Although much is known about how we perceive expressions, the role of facial experience in shaping this remarkable ability remains unclear. Is our perception of expressions linked to how we ourselves make facial expressions? Are we better at recognizing other's facial expressions if we are experts at making the same expressions ourselves? And if we could not make facial expressions at all, would it impact our ability to recognize others' facial expressions? The current article aims to examine these questions by explicating the link between facial experience and facial expression recognition. It includes a comprehensive appraisal of the related literature and examines three main theories that posit a connection between making and recognizing facial expressions. First, recent studies in individuals with Moebius syndrome support the role of facial ability (i.e., the ability to move one's face to make facial expressions) in facial expression recognition. Second, motor simulation theory suggests that humans recognize others' facial expressions by covertly mimicking the observed expression (without overt motor action) and that this facial mimicry helps us identify and feel the associated emotion. Finally, the facial feedback hypothesis provides a framework for enhanced emotional experience via proprioceptive feedback from facial muscles when mimicking a viewed facial expression. Evidence for and against these theories is presented as well as some considerations and outstanding questions for future research studies investigating the role of facial experience in facial expression perception.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.