Social Kinematics: A Motor-Perceptual Approach to Facial Expression Communication

3 May 2024, 4.00 PM - 3 May 2024, 5.00 PM

Dr Hélio Cuve, Lecturer, School of Psychological Science

Psychology Common Room, Social Sciences Complex, Priory Road

Facial expressions are powerful and flexible tools for social interaction. For example, they enable social agents to convey ostensive emotion displays (e.g., anger, happiness) as well as subtle expressive cues like a raised eyebrow that modulate simultaneous verbal communication. How this complex signalling capacity is achieved remains only partially explored. Drawing on theories of motor function, perception, and communication, we argue that the dynamic nature of facial movements allows for nuanced spatiotemporal variations and multiplexing, crucial for nuanced social signalling. However, most previous research has focused on static aspects of facial behavior, reflecting in part the theoretical and methodological challenge of modelling the production and perception of dynamic social signals. In this talk, I will discuss ongoing work using facial expression production and perception experiments to investigate the structure and function of facial signalling dynamics. Leveraging facial-motion tracking and spatiotemporal compression techniques, this works show that despite the apparent complexity, facial expression dynamics can be distilled into a set of fundamental spatiotemporal components. These components form the basis for flexible signalling through synergistic component mixing and subtle kinematic differences between various emotion states. I speculate that spatiotemporal component characteristics represent an efficient encoding strategy, optimising the transmission and perception of social signals. These insights could have implications for understanding normative and atypical face-to-face signalling (production and perception) and inform the optimal design of expressive non-verbal cues in artificial social agents.


Dr. Hélio Cuve is a Lecturer in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol since 2023. He completed a BSc in Psychology at Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique) in 2014 and an MSc at Beira Interior University (Portugal) in 2016. In the same year, he was awarded a US Fulbright Scholarship and moved to the US where he completed an MSc in Experimental Psychology at the City University of New York in 2018. Afterwards, he moved to the UK where he earned a PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford in 2021, Funded by a University Clarendon Studentship. Prior to joining Bristol, Dr. Cuve held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Birmingham, awarded by the Experimental Psychology Society in 2022. His current research interests focus on integrating theoretical approaches in social and affective neuroscience with data-driven modelling to understand affective processes, social signalling, and interaction by leveraging multimodal data (subjective, psychophysiological, and behavioral).

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Dr Hélio Cuve

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