Behavioral Biomechanics Laboratory

“The Behavioral Biomechanics Laboratory studies how emotions and mood disorders affect body movement. This unique, interdisciplinary approach combines biomechanical, psychological and psychiatric methods to uncover how movement, emotions, and mental health are all related. Our goal is to develop new tools to help clinicians evaluate mental health and for patients to maintain well-being.”
Dr. Melissa Gross, Director and Associate Professor of Movement Science

Behavior Biomechanics Laboratory


CCRB 1240
401 Washtenaw Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2214
(734) 763-0013
(734) 936-1925



Recognition of emotion in body movements

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.

Kinematics of emotional expression

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 and expression of emotion

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.

Body representation and emotion recognition

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.