How do we recognize emotion from movement? Specific motor components contribute to the recognition of each emotion

Ayelet Melzer, Tal Shafir, Rachelle Palnick Tsachor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Are there movement features that are recognized as expressing each basic emotion by most people, and what are they? In our previous study we identified sets of Laban movement components that, when moved, elicited the basic emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and happiness. Our current study aimed to investigate if movements composed from those sets would be recognized as expressing those emotions, regardless of any instruction to the mover to portray emotion. Our stimuli included 113 video-clips of five Certified Laban Movement Analysts (CMAs) moving combinations of two to four movement components from each set associated with only one emotion: happiness, sadness, fear, or anger. Each three second clip showed one CMA moving a single combination. The CMAs moved only the combination's required components. Sixty-two physically and mentally healthy men (n = 31) and women (n = 31), ages 19-48, watched the clips and rated the perceived emotion and its intensity. To confirm participants' ability to recognize emotions from movement and to compare our stimuli to existing validated emotional expression stimuli, participants rated 50 additional clips of bodily motor expressions of these same emotions validated by Atkinson et al. (2004). Results showed that for both stimuli types, all emotions were recognized far above chance level. Comparing recognition accuracy of the two clip types revealed better recognition of anger, fear, and neutral emotion from Atkinson's clips of actors expressing emotions, and similar levels of recognition accuracy for happiness and sadness. Further analysis was performed to determine the contribution of specific movement components to the recognition of the studied emotions. Our results indicated that these specific Laban motor components not only enhance feeling the associated emotions when moved, but also contribute to recognition of the associated emotions when being observed, even when the mover was not instructed to portray emotion, indicating that the presence of these movement components alone is sufficient for emotion recognition. This research-based knowledge regarding the relationship between Laban motor components and bodily emotional expressions can be used by dance-movement and drama therapists for better understanding of clients' emotional movements, for creating appropriate interventions, and for enhancing communication with other practitioners regarding bodily emotional expression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1389
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Melzer, Shafir and Tsachor.


  • Bodily emotional expressions
  • Dance-movement therapy
  • Emotion
  • Emotion recognition
  • Laban movement analysis
  • Motor
  • Movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'How do we recognize emotion from movement? Specific motor components contribute to the recognition of each emotion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this