The Body Action Coding System II: Muscle activations during the perception and expression of emotion

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Research into the expression and perception of emotions has mostly focused on facial expressions. Recently, body postures have become increasingly important in research, but knowledge on muscle activity during the perception or expression of emotion is lacking. The current study continues the development of a Body Action Coding System (BACS), which was initiated in a previous study, and described the involvement of muscles in the neck, shoulders and arms during expression of fear and anger. The current study expands the BACS by assessing the activity patterns of three additional muscles. Surface electromyography of muscles in the neck (upper trapezius descendens), forearms (extensor carpi ulnaris), lower back (erector spinae longissimus) and calves (peroneus longus) were measured during active expression and passive viewing of fearful and angry body expressions. The muscles in the forearm were strongly active for anger expression and to a lesser extent for fear expression. In contrast, muscles in the calves were recruited slightly more for fearful expressions. It was also found that muscles automatically responded to the perception of emotion, without any overt movement. The observer's forearms responded to the perception of fear, while the muscles used for leaning backwards were activated when faced with an angry adversary. Lastly, the calf responded immediately when a fearful person was seen, but responded slower to anger. There is increasing interest in developing systems that are able to create or recognize emotional body language for the development of avatars, robots, and online environments. To that end, multiple coding systems have been developed that can either interpret or create bodily expressions based on static postures, motion capture data or videos. However, the BACS is the first coding system based on muscle activity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number330
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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