Faces, and specifically the processing of facial emotion, have motivated much of my prior research. How can we decode emotions from facial expressions? And what kinds of facial information do we draw upon to make social decisions? My PhD project touches on these questions, with specific reference to behavioural and physiological mimicry.
Although a number of studies have found that mimicry is present even from early infancy, how (or whether) this develops over the lifespan has been largely ignored. Crucially, both the mimicry of behaviours, and synchrony of physiological signals, have been linked to emotional contagion, which may act as the “glue” facilitating prosocial decision-making. This project will examine the developmental trajectory of this mimicry process across early childhood. In particular, I aim to address how mimicry matures, and whether this is related to increases in socioemotional competencies. To this end, I will compare children from both early and late childhood to adults with respect to how they: express emotions, mimic emotional expressions, and base social decisions (e.g. contingent on trust and cooperation) on whether such mimicry occurs.
I will take an integrative bio-psychophysiological approach to answer these questions: Combining physiological data (EDA, EMG, heart-rate and pupillometry) with machine learning models and behavioural economic paradigms. Ultimately, I aim to elucidate how children’s socioemotional abilities develop across the lifespan, and examine whether this is linked to any developmental changes in mimicry.