Five-Year-Olds’ Facial Mimicry Following Social Ostracism is Modulated by Attachment Security

Hunnius, S. (Sabine)
Johanna E. van Schaik

Social ostracism triggers an increase in affiliative behaviours. One such behaviour is the rapid copying of others’ facial expressions, called facial mimicry (FM). Insofar, it remains unknown how individual differences in intrinsic affiliation motivation regulate responses to social ostracism during early development. We examined children’s FM following ostracism as modulated by individual differences in the affiliation motivation, expressed in their attachment tendencies. Resistant and avoidant tendencies are characterized by high and low affiliation motivation, and were hypothesized to lead to FM enhancement or suppression towards an ostracizing partner, respectively. Following an ostracism manipulation in which children played a virtual game (Cyberball) with an includer and an excluder peer, FM of the two peers’ happy and sad facial expressions was recorded with electromyography (EMG). Attachment was assessed via parent-report questionnaire. We found that 5-year-olds smiled to both happy and sad facial expressions of the excluder peer, while they showed no facial reactions for the includer peer. Neither resistant nor avoidant tendencies predicted FM to the excluder peer. Yet, securely attached children smiled towards the excluder peer, both when the peer displayed happy and sad facial expressions. In conclusion, these findings suggest a modulation of facial reactions following ostracism by early attachment.