Is Facial Mimicry Related to Empathy Levels in Children?

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Facial mimicry is thought to be involved in several socioemotional skills, including empathy. In this project, we investigated the presence of facial mimicry and its relationship to empathy in children. We collected electromyographic (EMG) activity using an EEG net as participants observed fearful and happy facial expressions. Additionally, Participants’ caregivers completed the Griffin Empathy Questionnaire (Dadds et al., 2008). First, we confirmed that our EEG facial electrodes captured facial muscle (EMG) activity and differentiated between executed happy and fearful facial expressions (p<.001). As hypothesized, we found greater EMG activity in the Zygomaticus Major cluster for happy, compared to fearful expressions (p<.001). As expected, this pattern was reversed for the Corrugator Supercilii cluster (p<.001). Second, we found evidence for facial mimicry while participants observed various expressions (p=.04). However, facial mimicry was only significant for the Corrugator Supercilii cluster (p=.02) and not the Zygomaticus Major, suggesting that evidence for facial mimicry was exclusive to observing fearful facial expressions. Finally, we found that the extent of facial mimicry was not related to levels of empathy, r(45)=.23, p=.12. Together, our results provide evidence for facial mimicry in childhood. However, we do not provide support for the relation between facial mimicry and empathy. Finally, our findings suggest that EMG activity can be successfully captured using EEG equipment, providing future studies a way to directly examine the relation between facial mimicry and the mirror neuron system.