The neuroethology of spontaneous mimicry and emotional contagion in human and non-human animals

Elisabetta Palagi, Alessia Celeghin, Marco Tamietto, Piotr Winkielman, Ivan Norscia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Spontaneous mimicry appears fundamental to emotional perception and contagion, especially when it involves facial emotional expressions. Here we cover recent evidence on spontaneous mimicry from ethology, psychology and neuroscience, in non-human and human animals. We first consider how mimicry unfolds in non-human animals (particularly primates) and how it relates to emotional contagion. We focus on two forms of mimicry-related phenomena: facial mimicry and yawn contagion, which are largely conserved across mammals and useful to draw evolutionary scenarios. Next, we expand on the psychological evidence from humans that bears on current theoretical debates and also informs non-human animal research. Finally, we cover the neural bases of facial mimicry and yawn contagion. We move beyond the perception/expression/experience trichotomy and from the correlational to the causal evidence that links facial mimicry to emotional contagion by presenting evidence from neuroimaging, direct manipulation, neuro-stimulation and lesion studies. In conclusion, this review proposes a bottom-up, multidisciplinary approach to the study of spontaneous mimicry that accounts for the evolutionary continuity linking non-human and human animals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-165
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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