Neural measures of the causal role of observers' facial mimicry on visual working memory for facial expressions

Paola Sessa*, Arianna Schiano Lomoriello, Roy Luria

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Simulation models of facial expressions propose that sensorimotor regions may increase the clarity of facial expressions representations in extrastriate areas. We monitored the event-related potential marker of visual working memory (VWM) representations, namely the sustained posterior contralateral negativity (SPCN), also termed contralateral delay activity, while participants performed a change detection task including to-be-memorized faces with different intensities of anger. In one condition participants could freely use their facial mimicry during the encoding/VWM maintenance of the faces while in a different condition participants had their facial mimicry blocked by a gel. Notably, SPCN amplitude was reduced for faces in the blocked mimicry condition when compared to the free mimicry condition. This modulation interacted with the empathy levels of participants such that only participants with medium-high empathy scores showed such reduction of the SPCN amplitude when their mimicry was blocked. The SPCN amplitude was larger for full expressions when compared to neutral and subtle expressions, while subtle expressions elicited lower SPCN amplitudes than neutral faces. These findings provide evidence of a functional link between mimicry and VWM for faces and further shed light on how this memory system may receive feedbacks from sensorimotor regions during the processing of facial expressions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1291
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - 4 Dec 2018


  • Empathy
  • Event-related potentials
  • Facial expressions
  • Facial mimicry
  • Visual working memory


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