Smile (but only deliberately) though your heart is aching: Loneliness is associated with impaired spontaneous smile mimicry

Andrew J. Arnold , Piotr Winkielman


As social beings, humans harbor an evolved capacity for loneliness – perceived social isolation. Loneliness is associated with atypical affective and social processing, as well as physiological dysregulation. We investigated how loneliness influences spontaneous facial mimicry (SFM), an interpersonal response involved in social connection and emotional contagion. We presented participants with emotional stimuli, such as video clips of actors expressing anger, fear, sadness, or joy, and emotional IAPS images. We measured participants’ zygomaticus major (“smiling”) muscle and their corrugator supercilii (“frowning”) muscle with facial electromyography (fEMG). We also measured self-reported loneliness, depression, and extraversion levels. For socially connected individuals we found intact SFM, as reflected in greater fEMG activity of the zygomaticus and corrugator to positive and negative expressions, respectively. However, individuals reporting higher levels of loneliness lacked SFM for expressions of joy. Loneliness did not impair deliberate mimicry activity to the same expressions, or spontaneous reactions to positive, negative, or neutral IAPS images. Depression and extraversion did not predict any differences in fEMG responses. We suggest that impairments in spontaneous “smiling back” at another – a decreased interpersonal resonance – could contribute to negative social and emotional consequences of loneliness and may facilitate loneliness contagion.
Author Andrew J. Arnold
Andrew J. Arnold,,
, Piotr Winkielman (Wydział Psychologii w Warszawie)
Piotr Winkielman,,
- Wydział Psychologii w Warszawie
Journal seriesSocial Neuroscience, ISSN 1747-0919, e-ISSN 1747-0927, (N/A 100 pkt)
Issue year2021
Publication size in sheets0.6
Keywords in EnglishLoneliness; facial mimicry; mimicry; electromyography (EMG); fEMG; smile(s); social isolation; isolation; social connection
ASJC Classification2802 Behavioral Neuroscience; 3207 Social Psychology; 3303 Development
Languageen angielski
Smile_SN-2021.pdf 1.93 MB
Additional file
osw_Smile (but only deliberately).pdf 307.01 KB
Score (nominal)100
Score sourcejournalList
Publication indicators Scopus SNIP (Source Normalised Impact per Paper): 2016 = 0.882; WoS Impact Factor: 2018 = 2.154 (2) - 2018=2.667 (5)
Citation count*4 (2021-04-13)
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