When we observe a facial expression of emotion, we often mimic it. This automatic mimicry reflects underlying sensorimotor simulation that supports accurate emotion recognition. Why this is so is becoming more obvious: emotions are patterns of expressive, behavioral, physiological, and subjective feeling responses. Activation of one component can therefore automatically activate other components. When people simulate a perceived facial expression, they partially activate the corresponding emotional state in themselves, which provides a basis for inferring the underlying emotion of the expresser. We integrate recent evidence in favor of a role for sensorimotor simulation in emotion recognition. We then connect this account to a domain-general understanding of how sensory information from multiple modalities is integrated to generate perceptual predictions in the brain.
Wood, A., Rychlowska, M., Korb, S., & Niedenthal, P. M. (2016). Fashioning the face: sensorimotor simulation contributes to facial expression recognition. Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 20(3), 227-240. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.12.010