Expressive Movements

Expressive Movements


movements that manifest themselves during various (particularly emotional) psychological states and that serve as their external expression. The most important class of expressive movements is represented in mimicry and pantomime. In the broadest sense expressive movements include all shadings of the voice and intonations conveying emotions, as well as the autonomic reactions that accompany these emotions—vascular, respiratory, and secretory.

Practical concepts of expressive movements were used in ancient times in the art of the actor and the orator and also in the first efforts at constructing physiognomy. Detailed descriptions of expressive movements started to appear in the 17th century, and expressive movements began to be studied systematically in the 18th century (descriptions of the anatomical traits of expressive movements, characteristic of various spiritual states). The works of the British scientist C. Bell constituted an important stage in the development of scientific concepts regarding expressive movements. In these works Bell demonstrated the connection between expressive movements and the functions of various divisions of the nervous system. The problem of the origin of expressive movements was first posed by H. Spencer and developed by I. M. Sechenov. This problem was treated comprehensively in the works of C. Darwin, in his formulation of the following three principles: the principle of useful associated habits (expressive movements as a product of inherited associations between certain sensations and emotions and their external manifestation); the principle of antithesis, which operates during contradictory emotions (for example, the tense posture of an angry dog changes to one of submissiveness and relaxed muscles when it meets its master); and the principle of the general excitation of the nervous system (expressive movements, connected with stormy emotions or with flare-ups of temporary insanity). Darwin’s evolutionary ideas were developed by Russian psychologists (for example, P. F. Lesgaft and V. M. Bekhterev), who particularly emphasized the role of upbringing and environment in forming a child’s expressive movements. Thus the biological aspect of studying expressive movements was supplemented by the social aspect.

During the 20th century expressive movements became the object of study not only in human beings and the higher animals but also in arthropods, fish, and birds. (Such research has been conducted very extensively within the framework of ethology.) New aspects of expressive movements have been discovered in connection with the development of semiotics; especially in paralinguistics, the functions of a number of expressive movements in the process of communication are being studied.


Woodworth, R. Eksperimental’naia psikhologiia. Moscow, 1950. (Translated from English.)
Iakobson, P. M. Psikhologiia chuvstv, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1958.
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Two female dancers, sporting traditional costumes in bright green, pink and gold, demonstrated expressive movements where hand positions held special meaning.
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