Background: Facial mimicry is crucial in the recognition of others' emotional state. Thus, the observation of others' facial expressions activates the same neural representation of that affective state in the observer, along with related autonomic and somatic responses. What happens, therefore, when someone cannot mimic others' facial expressions? Methods: We investigated whether psychophysiological emotional responses to others' facial expressions were impaired in 13 children (9 years) with Moebius syndrome (MBS), an extremely rare neurological disorder (1/250,000 live births) characterized by congenital facial paralysis. We inspected autonomic responses and vagal regulation through facial cutaneous thermal variations and by the computation of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). These parameters provide measures of emotional arousal and show the autonomic adaptation to others' social cues. Physiological responses in children with MBS were recorded during dynamic facial expression observation and were compared to those of a control group (16 non-affected children, 9 years). Results: There were significant group effects on thermal patterns and RSA, with lower values in children with MBS. We also observed a mild deficit in emotion recognition in these patients. Conclusion: Results support "embodied" theory, whereby the congenital inability to produce facial expressions induces alterations in the processing of facial expression of emotions. Such alterations may constitute a risk for emotion dysregulation.
Children with facial paralysis due to Moebius syndrome exhibit reduced autonomic modulation during emotion processing / De Stefani, E.; Ardizzi, M.; Nicolini, Y.; Belluardo, M.; Barbot, A.; Bertolini, C.; Garofalo, G.; Bianchi, B.; Coude, G.; Murray, L.; Ferrari, P. F.. - In: JOURNAL OF NEURODEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS. - ISSN 1866-1947. - 11:1(2019), p. 12. [10.1186/s11689-019-9272-2]