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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The perception of emotion in body expressions

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During communication, we perceive and express emotional information through many different channels, including facial expressions, prosody, body motion, and posture. Although historically the human body has been perceived primarily as a tool for actions, there is now increased understanding that the body is also an important medium for emotional expression. Indeed, research on emotional body language is rapidly emerging as a new field in cognitive and affective neuroscience. This article reviews how whole‐body signals are processed and understood, at the behavioral and neural levels, with specific reference to their role in emotional communication. The first part of this review outlines brain regions and spectrotemporal dynamics underlying perception of isolated neutral and affective bodies, the second part details the contextual effects on body emotion recognition, and final part discusses body processing on a subconscious level. More specifically, research has shown that body expressions as compared with neutral bodies draw upon a larger network of regions responsible for action observation and preparation, emotion processing, body processing, and integrative processes. Results from neurotypical populations and masking paradigms suggest that subconscious processing of affective bodies relies on a specific subset of these regions. Moreover, recent evidence has shown that emotional information from the face, voice, and body all interact, with body motion and posture often highlighting and intensifying the emotion expressed in the face and voice. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:149–158. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1335

This article is categorized under:

  • Neuroscience > Cognition
Body perception regions in occipitotemporal cortex (OTC), namely posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), extrastriate body area (EBA), and fusiform body area (FBA).
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The three interrelated brain networks involved in emotional body language. Left: reflex‐like emotional body language (EBL, orange); middle: body awareness of EBL (green); and right: visuomotor perception of EBL (blue). Involved regions: superior colliculus (SC), pulvinar (Pulv), striatum, amygdala (AMG), somatosensory cortex (SS), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), lateral occipital complex (LOC), superior temporal sulcus (STS), intraparietal sulcus (IPS), fusiform gyrus (FG), and premotor cortex (PM).
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