Genuine Emotional Mimicry is an Empathic Act

Monday 4 December 2023 (10:00-11:00)

Stacey Smith

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Institute for Mental Health

Genuine Emotional Mimicry is an Empathic Act

Emotional mimicry, the imitation of others' emotions, has been associated with affective empathy (Hess, 2021; Hess & Fischer, 2013), fostering affiliation and feelings of closeness, and improving the quality of social interactions. However, individuals also engage in mimicry of emotions that convey antagonism rather than affiliation. This includes (I) mimicking inherently antagonistic emotions such as disgust or anger, and (II) mimicking emotions displayed in contexts that make them antagonistic, such as expressing joy during a funeral.

We posit that, despite the outward similarity between antagonistic mimicry and affiliative mimicry, they are distinct phenomena. Antagonistic mimicry is linked to antisocial traits and disruptions in social well-being, indicating that it may not qualify as an empathic act. This presentation makes an attempt to differentiate affiliative mimicry, involving the imitation of affiliative emotions that foster interpersonal closeness and may constitute a facet of affective empathy, from antagonistic mimicry. The latter might not be genuine mimicry but rather a negative affective reaction to the negative emotions displayed by others. In my presentation, I will present findings from five studies that support and elaborate on this distinction.


The webinar will take place via Zoom.  Registration in advance is required.

About the Speaker

Dr. Heidi Mauersberger, Postdoctoral Researcher
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Heidi is a dedicated post-doctoral researcher at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where her academic journey began in 2008 with the start of her psychology studies. Over a 15-year tenure, she progressed through her diploma and successfully concluded her doctoral thesis, demonstrating an enduring commitment to understanding the nuances of emotions within various contexts.

In her role as a post-doctoral researcher, Heidi passionately explores the intricate realm of emotional mimicry in context, a field that has captivated her for nearly a decade. With expertise in unravelling the complexities of human non-verbal behaviours, she is interested in decoding the language of emotions in both affiliative and antagonistic contexts. This intellectual journey not only fuels Heidi's curiosity but also enriches her understanding of the nuanced dance of perception and reaction to emotions in everyday life.

Beyond the academic realm, Heidi is a proud parent of two children, aged 3 and 7, adding a delightful dimension to her busy life. Nestled just outside the vibrant city of Berlin, she balances her academic pursuits with the joys and challenges of family life, creating a harmonious blend of professionalism and personal fulfilment.