Research Overview

Research in our lab aims to understand how human movement patterns are changed in characteristic ways when different emotions are expressed in healthy individuals and in individuals with mood disorders. We use an interdisciplinary approach, combining biomechanical methods for recording and assessing body movements with psychological methods for eliciting and validating emotions. Expressive movement serves an important role in human interactions, yet we do not know how emotions are linked to recognizable movement qualities. By studying the biomechanics of expressive movement, our research extends the understanding of how emotion is manifest in body systems in health and disease.




Graduate Student(s)

Gu Kang

Undergraduate Student(s)

Kelsey Galang

Emily Rozin


Barb Fredrickson, Ph.D., North Carolina at Chapel Hill [Psychology]

Tal Shafir (, U-M Medical School and Psychiatry Dept.

Current Projects

What makes a joyful movement look joyful? We assume that emotions alter the performance of a movement in specific ways that can be recognized by observers. We use social consensus to determine whether or not a movement expresses a specific emotion. In this series of studies, observers view video clips of people moving while they are experiencing different emotions and then report which emotion they think the person is feeling.

People can easily detect the emotion that another person is feeling by observing their body movements. What, exactly, makes a sad movement look sad? In this series of studies, we use motion capture data and kinematic analysis to characterize how emotions affect body movements in specific, recognizable ways. We also assess movement qualities using a method based on Effort-Shape analysis, and compare the qualitative assessments with the kinematics outcomes. By combining biomechanical and psychological methods, these studies provide the basis for a new understanding of the relationship between emotional experience and body movements.

Walking speed changes when emotions are expressed. With high arousal emotions like anger and joy, walking speeds up, and with sadness, walking slows down. In this series of experiments, we investigate which aspects of body movement are related to walking speed, and which depend on emotional expression. We elicit different emotions and manipulate walking speeds using video and virtual representations of the body to study the effect of walking speed on emotional expression.

How life-like does an animated character need to be so that emotional expression can be recognized in the character’s movement? To explore this question, we use the same motion data to animate different representations of the body and then assess emotion recognition. Information from these studies can be used to help identify which aspects of body movement are involved in emotion expression and recognition.

Emotions are expressed through multiple channels - face, voice, body, subjective feelings and physiological responses - and typically are expressed in more than one channel at a time. Although the face and body both show emotion, surprisingly little is known about the simultaneous display of emotion in the face and body. The purpose of this project is to explore the concurrence of facial and bodily expressions during movement with different emotions. In these studies, emotional expressions in body movements are validated using observer recognition studies, facial expressions are quantified using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), and bodily expressions are quantified using kinematic analysis.

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