Lab manager Thomas Haasl wins a Summer Undergraduate Research (SURF) Fellowship

Congratulations to Tom, whose project is entitled, 

“Reading In-Between the Lines: Effects of Facial Muscle Fatigue on Emotional Language Comprehension”

How does reading language have a way of powerfully evoking emotions in readers? According to embodied theories of emotional language comprehension, neural activity involved in the literal experience of emotion is simulated, or reenacted, while reading emotional language. Studies have shown that people involuntarily execute emotional facial expressions compatible with the emotionality of the sentences they read. Emotional facial expressions and their facial feedback may play a role in this simulation process, and thereby facilitate the comprehension of compatible emotional sentences. For my SURF, I will explore the hypothesis that fatiguing facial muscles involved in smiling and frowning will impair the comprehension of happy and sad sentences, respectively. I will explore this hypothesis through the use of electromyography (EMG), a tool designed to transduce facial muscle activity into electric signals via recording electrodes affixed to the face. Participants will alternate holding smiling and frowning facial contractions until fatigue (i.e., decreased facial muscle activity as measured by EMG), and then read emotional sentences while reading times are measured. Fatiguing facial muscles involved in smiling should lead to increases in reading times for happy but not sad sentences, and vice versa for fatiguing facial muscles involved in frowning. I strongly believe that the SURF will allow me to develop the skills necessary to conduct research using EMG methods, explore the implications of my findings through the 2013-2014 academic year, and contribute to our understanding of how emotion and language interact.