Efficient recognition of facial expressions does not require motor simulation

  1. Gilles Vannuscorps  Is a corresponding author
  2. Michael Andres
  3. Alfonso Caramazza
  1. Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
  2. Harvard University, United States

Abstract

What mechanisms underlie facial expression recognition? A popular hypothesis holds that efficient facial expression recognition cannot be achieved by visual analysis alone but additionally requires a mechanism of motor simulation — an unconscious, covert imitation of the observed facial postures and movements. Here, we first discuss why this hypothesis does not necessarily follow from extant empirical evidence. Next, we report experimental evidence against the central premise of this view: we demonstrate that individuals can achieve normotypical efficient facial expression recognition despite a congenital absence of relevant facial motor representations and, therefore, unaided by motor simulation. This underscores the need to reconsider the role of motor simulation in facial expression recognition.

Data availability

Data and stimulus materials are publicly available and can be accessed on the Open Science Framework platform (https://osf.io/8t4fv/?view_only=85c15cafe5d94bb6a5cff2f09a6ef56d)

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Gilles Vannuscorps

    Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
    For correspondence
    gilles.vannuscorps@uclouvain.be
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5686-7349
  2. Michael Andres

    Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Alfonso Caramazza

    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Funding

Harvard University's Mind, Brain and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative

  • Alfonso Caramazza

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Richard B Ivry, University of California, Berkeley, United States

Ethics

Human subjects: The study was approved by the local Ethical committee at UCLouvain (Registration # B403201629166). Written informed consents were obtained from all participants prior to the study, and after the nature and possible consequences of the studies were explained.

Version history

  1. Received: December 22, 2019
  2. Accepted: May 3, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: May 4, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: May 12, 2020 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2020, Vannuscorps et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Metrics

  • 3,531
    views
  • 254
    downloads
  • 11
    citations

Views, downloads and citations are aggregated across all versions of this paper published by eLife.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Gilles Vannuscorps
  2. Michael Andres
  3. Alfonso Caramazza
(2020)
Efficient recognition of facial expressions does not require motor simulation
eLife 9:e54687.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.54687

Share this article

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.54687

Further reading

    1. Neuroscience
    Amanda Chu, Nicholas T Gordon ... Michael A McDannald
    Research Article

    Pavlovian fear conditioning has been extensively used to study the behavioral and neural basis of defensive systems. In a typical procedure, a cue is paired with foot shock, and subsequent cue presentation elicits freezing, a behavior theoretically linked to predator detection. Studies have since shown a fear conditioned cue can elicit locomotion, a behavior that - in addition to jumping, and rearing - is theoretically linked to imminent or occurring predation. A criticism of studies observing fear conditioned cue-elicited locomotion is that responding is non-associative. We gave rats Pavlovian fear discrimination over a baseline of reward seeking. TTL-triggered cameras captured 5 behavior frames/s around cue presentation. Experiment 1 examined the emergence of danger-specific behaviors over fear acquisition. Experiment 2 examined the expression of danger-specific behaviors in fear extinction. In total, we scored 112,000 frames for nine discrete behavior categories. Temporal ethograms show that during acquisition, a fear conditioned cue suppresses reward seeking and elicits freezing, but also elicits locomotion, jumping, and rearing - all of which are maximal when foot shock is imminent. During extinction, a fear conditioned cue most prominently suppresses reward seeking, and elicits locomotion that is timed to shock delivery. The independent expression of these behaviors in both experiments reveal a fear conditioned cue to orchestrate a temporally organized suite of behaviors.

    1. Neuroscience
    Salima Messaoudi, Ada Allam ... Isabelle Caille
    Research Article

    The fragile X syndrome (FXS) represents the most prevalent form of inherited intellectual disability and is the first monogenic cause of autism spectrum disorder. FXS results from the absence of the RNA-binding protein FMRP (fragile X messenger ribonucleoprotein). Neuronal migration is an essential step of brain development allowing displacement of neurons from their germinal niches to their final integration site. The precise role of FMRP in neuronal migration remains largely unexplored. Using live imaging of postnatal rostral migratory stream (RMS) neurons in Fmr1-null mice, we observed that the absence of FMRP leads to delayed neuronal migration and altered trajectory, associated with defects of centrosomal movement. RNA-interference-induced knockdown of Fmr1 shows that these migratory defects are cell-autonomous. Notably, the primary Fmrp mRNA target implicated in these migratory defects is microtubule-associated protein 1B (MAP1B). Knocking down MAP1B expression effectively rescued most of the observed migratory defects. Finally, we elucidate the molecular mechanisms at play by demonstrating that the absence of FMRP induces defects in the cage of microtubules surrounding the nucleus of migrating neurons, which is rescued by MAP1B knockdown. Our findings reveal a novel neurodevelopmental role for FMRP in collaboration with MAP1B, jointly orchestrating neuronal migration by influencing the microtubular cytoskeleton.