Altering sensorimotor simulation impacts early stages of facial expression processing depending on individual differences in alexithymic traits

Arianna Schiano Lomoriello, Antonio Maffei, Sabrina Brigadoi, Paola Sessa*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Simulation models of facial expressions suggest that posterior visual areas and brain areas underpinning sensorimotor simulations might interact to improve facial expression processing. According to these models, facial mimicry, a manifestation of sensorimotor simulation, may contribute to the visual processing of facial expressions by influencing early stages. The aim of this study was to assess whether and how sensorimotor simulation influences early stages of face processing, also investigating its relationship with alexithymic traits given that previous studies have suggested that individuals with high levels of alexithymic traits (vs. individuals with low levels of alexithymic traits) tend to use sensorimotor simulation to a lesser extent. We monitored P1 and N170 ERP components of the event-related potentials (ERP) in participants performing a fine discrimination task of facial expressions and animals, as a control condition. In half of the experiment, participants could freely use their facial mimicry whereas in the other half they had their facial mimicry blocked by a gel. Our results revealed that only individuals with lower compared to high alexithymic traits showed a larger modulation of the P1 amplitude as a function of the mimicry manipulation selectively for facial expressions (but not for animals), while we did not observe any modulation of the N170. Given the null results at the behavioural level, we interpreted the P1 modulation as compensative visual processing in individuals with low levels of alexithymia under conditions of interference on the sensorimotor processing, providing a preliminary evidence in favor of sensorimotor simulation models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105678
JournalBrain and Cognition
Number of pages37
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Dr. Adrienne Wood for kindly providing us with the stimuli used in the present study (see Wood et al. 2015). We also want to thank Olivia Baldi, Flavia Bartolini and Elena Marini for their valuable contribution with the EEG data collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Alexithymic traits
  • Face processing
  • Facial mimicry
  • P1 component
  • Sensorimotor simulation


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