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The recognition and interpretation of emotional information (e.g., about happiness) has been shown to elicit, amongst other bodily reactions, spontaneous facial expressions occurring in accordance to the relevant emotion (e.g. a smile). Theories of embodied cognition act on the assumption that such embodied simulations are not only an accessorial, but a crucial factor in the processing of emotional information. While several studies have confirmed the importance of facial motor resonance during the initial recognition of emotional information, its role at later stages of processing, such as during memory for emotional content, remains unexplored. The present study bridges this gap by exploring the impact of facial motor resonance on the retrieval of emotional stimuli. In a novel approach, the specific effects of embodied simulations were investigated at different stages of emotional memory processing (during encoding and/or retrieval). Eighty participants underwent a memory task involving emotional and neutral words consisting of an encoding and retrieval phase. Depending on the experimental condition, facial muscles were blocked by a hardening facial mask either during encoding, during retrieval, during both encoding and retrieval, or were left free to resonate (control). The results demonstrate that not only initial recognition but also memory of emotional items benefits from embodied simulations occurring during their encoding and retrieval.

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Journal Article

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