Memory Improves When Voice And Facial Expressions Match Material
Christopher Philip

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Aggressive 3When subjects were presented with material later to be recalled, those who used facial expressions that matched the material were better able to reproduce the material than those who did not, according to a study published in the Journal Emotion.

The aim of the study was to improve the research literature on the embodiment of nonverbal communication – the link between the body and the mind.

In the first study, researchers Michal Parzuchowski and Aleksandra Szymkow-Sudziarska had subjects adopt the facial expression of surprise or a neutral expression while memorizing a list of surprising words (i.e. words not commonly used in everyday language) and a list of neutral words (words used in everyday language).

They predicted that the subjects would be better able to reproduce the words if their facial expressions matched the words. This is exactly what they found. It turns out that if you want to remember things, the more you can match the emotion to the content, the better you should perform.

In the second study, the procedure was modified slightly. First, researchers had the participants hold the facial expression for a full 2 minutes in front of a mirror before the experiment began. This time, the researchers changed the intonation of the words subjects had to recall. Words were either pronounced with a surprising intonation which inflected the pitch and tempo on the last syllable, sad intonation, with lower pitch and tempo on the first syllable, or with a neutral intonation.

Again, the researchers predicted that the subjects would recall more words when their facial expressions matched the word intonation. This is exactly what they found, and it mirrored their findings from the first experiment.

Overall, those who matched the embodied state of the emotion by adopting facial expression and vocal intonation to the words to be remembered recalled more words than those who adopted dissimilar expressions and dissimilar vocal intonations.

Drawing Conclusions

“The results of the two experiments”, say the researchers “provide some evidence that matching the facial expression with the material to be learned is beneficial and results in better memory of the material.”

Indeed, matching emotions to learned materials facilitates learning. In a classroom or study situation, matching emotion and intonation should be welcomed to improve later recall.

“As our studies have shown,” say the researchers “it is not just what you say, and it is also not just how you say it; it’s how well you can see it on your target’s face that is critical in the learning of new material.”

In teaching, therefore, students should be taught and encouraged to use appropriate emotion during lessons. Instructors should also understand that using relevant emotion while teaching will increase their overall effectiveness and they should therefore use higher emotional affect when delivering their lessons.


Parzuchowski, Michal and Aleksandra Szymkow-Sudziarska. Well, Slap My Thigh: Expression of Surprise Facilitates Memory Of Surprising Material. Emotion. 2008; 8 (3): 430-434.

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