Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

The Simulation of Smiles (SIMS) model: Embodied simulation and the meaning of facial expression

Paula M. Niedenthala1, Martial Mermilloda2, Marcus Maringera3 and Ursula Hessa4

a1 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Clermont Université, 63037 Clermont-Ferrand, France.

a2 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Clermont Université, 63037 Clermont-Ferrand, France.

a3 Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

a4 Department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 12489 Berlin, Germany.


Recent application of theories of embodied or grounded cognition to the recognition and interpretation of facial expression of emotion has led to an explosion of research in psychology and the neurosciences. However, despite the accelerating number of reported findings, it remains unclear how the many component processes of emotion and their neural mechanisms actually support embodied simulation. Equally unclear is what triggers the use of embodied simulation versus perceptual or conceptual strategies in determining meaning. The present article integrates behavioral research from social psychology with recent research in neurosciences in order to provide coherence to the extant and future research on this topic. The roles of several of the brain's reward systems, and the amygdala, somatosensory cortices, and motor centers are examined. These are then linked to behavioral and brain research on facial mimicry and eye gaze. Articulation of the mediators and moderators of facial mimicry and gaze are particularly useful in guiding interpretation of relevant findings from neurosciences. Finally, a model of the processing of the smile, the most complex of the facial expressions, is presented as a means to illustrate how to advance the application of theories of embodied cognition in the study of facial expression of emotion.

Paula M. Niedenthal received her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and was on the faculty of the departments of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University and Indiana University (USA). She is currently Director of Research in the National Centre for Scientific Research and member of the Laboratory in Social and Cognitive Psychology at Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Her areas of research include emotion–cognition interaction and representational models of emotion. Author of more than 100 articles and chapters, and several books, Dr. Niedenthal is a fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Martial Mermillod is Associate Professor of Psychology at the Blaise Pascal University, CNRS (UMR 6024) and Institut Universitaire de France. He has published over 30 peer reviewed articles and book chapters in the domain of emotion and perception, neural computation, and cognitive sciences.

Ursula Hess is Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at the Humboldt-University, Berlin. She has published extensively (over 100 peer reviewed articles and book chapters) in the domain of emotion communication.

Marcus Maringer is a lecturer of Psychology at the Hague University for Applied Sciences. He has published several reviewed articles and book chapters in the domain of emotional influences on perception and judgment formation.