Spontaneous emotionally congruent facial responses (ECFR) to others’ emotional expressions can occur by simply observing others’ faces (i.e., smiling) or by reading emotion related words (i.e., to smile). The goal of the present study was to examine whether language describing political leaders’ emotions affects voters by inducing emotionally congruent facial reactions as a function of readers’ and politicians’ shared political orientation. Participants read sentences describing politicians’ emotional expressions, while their facial muscle activation was measured by means of electromyography (EMG). Results showed that reading sentences describing left and right-wing politicians “smiling” or “frowning” elicits ECFR for ingroup but not outgroup members. Remarkably, ECFR were sensitive to attitudes toward individual leaders beyond the ingroup vs. outgroup political divide. Through integrating behavioral and physiological methods we were able to consistently tap on a ‘favored political leader effect’ thus capturing political attitudes towards an individual politician at a given moment of time, at multiple levels (explicit responses and automatic ECFR) and across political party membership lines. Our findings highlight the role of verbal behavior of politicians in affecting voters’ facial expressions with important implications for social judgment and behavioral outcomes.
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