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Perceived complainant credibility: The roles of emotion, empathy, and facial mimicry

Conference contribution
Authors Karl Ask
Published in 27th conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law (EAPL), Mechelen, Belgium: 28-31 May
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords credibility, facial mimicry, emotion
Subject categories Psychology


There is mounting evidence that complainants’ emotional expression has a substantial impact on observers’ credibility judgments—a phenomenon known as the Emotional Victim Effect (EVE). To date, however, the psychological mechanisms underlying the EVE are not well understood. Based on previous research showing that facial mimicry plays an important role in empathic responding and emotion recognition, the current research examined the role of facial mimicry in the production of the EVE. Participants (N = 362) in an experiment were shown a videotaped statement by a (fictional) rape complainant who displayed either strong negative emotions or few emotional expressions. While watching the statement, participants in the experimental groups were instructed to actively mimic the complainant’s facial expressions or to actively inhibit facial mimicry. Participants in the control group received no instructions regarding facial mimicry. Failing to replicate the original EVE, participants’ ratings of the complainant’s believability did not differ as a function of the complainant’s emotional expressions. Moreover, there was no evidence that participants’ facial mimicry moderated the influence of complainant’s emotional expressions. Unexpectedly, however, facial mimicry had a direct influence on believability ratings; participants instructed to inhibit mimicry considered the complainant’s statement significantly less believable than did participants in the control condition. Exploratory follow-up analyses indicated that mimicry inhibition may exert its influence on believability by impairing empathy and emotion recognition. The current findings are important in two regards: (1) the failure to observe the EVE in a high-powered replication attempt contributes to future estimates of the true size of the effect (e.g., meta-analyses); (2) the demonstrated influence of inhibited facial mimicry on believability judgments has implications for fact finders in actual trials. Judges and jurors who deliberately counteract facial mimicry in order not to be swayed by emotional expressions may be unaware that such countermeasures produce increased skepticism.

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