The involvement of facial mimicry in different aspects of human emotional processing is widely debated. However, little is known about relationships between voluntary activation of facial musculature and conscious recognition of facial expressions. To address this issue, we assessed severely motor-disabled patients with complete paralysis of voluntary facial movements due to lesions of the ventral pons [locked-in syndrome (LIS)]. Patients were required to recognize others' facial expressions and to rate their own emotional responses to presentation of affective scenes. LIS patients were selectively impaired in recognition of negative facial expressions, thus demonstrating that the voluntary activation of mimicry represents a high-level simulation mechanism crucially involved in explicit attribution of emotions.
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