Early adolescents’ mimicry and counter-mimicry of peers’ angry and happy faces: Associations with belongingness needs
Refereed conference paper presented and published in conference proceedings


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AbstractEarly adolescence is marked by forming new friendships, deepening intimacy with peers, and trying to avoid social exclusion (Kirke, 2009; Pedersen et al., 2007). Early adolescents alsoundergo neurological changes that interfere with emotion regulation (Zimmermann & Iwanski, 2014). Ability to regulate affective states predicts peer acceptance (Perry-Parrish et al., 2013). Youths must learn to actively regulate emotional behaviors in service of interpersonal goals, particularly when these behaviors signal their social intentions.

Behavioral mimicry is a “social glue” that fosters interpersonal closeness; both affiliation goals and social rejection experiences promote mimicry of others’ “neutral” motor behaviors, such as foot-shaking (Lakin et al., 2003). Mimicking emotional expressions is more complex, however: Mimicking friendly smiles might promote affiliation, but mimicking angry frowns might escalate conflicts. It is instead more adaptive to “counter-mimic” anger, de-escalating the situation with an appeasing smile (Häfner & IJzerman, 2011). Developing mature emotion regulation thus necessitates that youths flexibly respond to others’ feelings in ways that complement their social goals (Lemerise & Harper, 2010). In this study, we examined early-adolescents’ overt mimicry and counter-mimicry of peers’ angry and happy faces. We investigated whether social exclusion and/or dispositional “belongingness needs” would prompt stronger affiliative behavior (e.g., stronger smiling and weaker frowning responses).

Participants were 82 (46.3% Female) Chinese 12-15 year-olds (M=13.06, SD=1.24). Participants experienced either inclusion (n=37) or exclusion (n=45) in a Cyberball game (Williams & Jarvis, 2006) played with two (computer-simulated) same-aged peers. Afterward, participants received randomized-blocked instructions to mimic (e.g., frown at angry faces) or counter-mimic (e.g., frown at happy faces; see Figure 1) these peers’ emotional expressions. Happy and angry images were presented in random order (10 trials each) within each block. Facial electromyography (fEMG) recorded frowning (corrugator) and smiling (zygomaticus). Baseline-corrected responses were aggregated over 1s post-stimulus.

Manipulation checks indicated that Cyberball had the intended effects upon feelings of exclusion. Separately for frowning and smiling responses, we conducted 2(Exclusion) x 2(Task) x 2(Emotion) mixed ANCOVAs, with Belongingness Needs as a covariate. The Exclusion manipulation had no significant effects. However, for both frowning and smiling, a three-way interaction between Task, Emotion, and Belongingness Needs was significant [Fs(1,78)>4.34, ps<.04]. Post-hoc analyses revealed that participants’ Belongingness Needs were negatively correlated with mimicry of angry faces (r=-.31, p=.005) and counter-mimicry of happy faces (r=-.29, p=.009). Belongingness Needs were also positively correlated with mimicry of happy faces (r=-.23, p=.039), see Figure 2a-b.

This study extends prior research on children’s active emotion regulation efforts, by considering overt behavior instead of internal states, and the social messages that emotional expressions convey (Fischer & Manstead, 2008). Youths with stronger dispositional belongingness needs showed weaker antagonistic (i.e., frowning) responses toward both angry and happy peers, as well as stronger affiliative (i.e., smiling) responses toward happy peers. Experiences of both exclusion and inclusion might increase subsequent motivations to affiliate with peers, leading to nonsignificant effects for the Cyberball manipulation. However, the results generally suggest that youths flexibly adjust their responses to others’ emotions in ways that are compatible with their dispositional belongingness needs.
Acceptance Date20/12/2018
All Author(s) ListSkyer T. HAWK, Yingqian WANG, Wenqing ZONG
Name of ConferenceSociety for Research on Child Development
Start Date of Conference21/03/2019
End Date of Conference23/03/2019
Place of ConferenceBaltimore, MD
Country/Region of ConferenceUnited States of America
Year2019
Month3
LanguagesEnglish-United States

Last updated on 2019-04-09 at 17:19