WHEN talking about our feelings, we often use expressions that link emotions with movements or positions in space. If, for example, one receives good news, they might say that their “spirit soared”, or that they are feeling “on top of the world”. Conversely, negative emotions are associated with downward movements and positions – somebody who is sad is often said to be “down in the dumps”, or feeling “low”.
According to a new study published in this month’s issue of the journal Cognition, expressions such as these are not merely metaphorical. The research provides evidence of a causal link between motion and emotion, by showing that bodily movements influence the recollection of emotional memories, as well as the speed with which they are recalled.
Do you smile because you’re happy, or are you happy because you are smiling? Darwin believed that facial expressions are indeed important for experiencing emotions. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, he wrote that “the free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it…[whereas]…the repression…of all outward signs softens our emotions.” This idea was subsequently elaborated by the great psychologist William James, who suggested that “every representation of a movement awakens in some degree the actual movement which is its object.”
Botox, which is used by millions of people every year to reduce wrinkles and frown lines on the forehead, works by paralyzing the muscles involved in producing facial expressions. A study due to be published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that by doing so, it impairs the ability to process the emotional content of language, and may diminish the quality of emotional experiences.