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Psychol Sci. 2010 Apr;21(4):607-13. doi: 10.1177/0956797610365131. Epub 2010 Mar 9.

Being moved: valence activates approach-avoidance behavior independently of evaluation and approach-avoidance intentions.

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  • 1University of Würzburg, Department of Psychology II, Würzburg, Germany.


Theories from diverse areas of psychology assume that affective stimuli facilitate approach and avoidance behavior because they elicit motivational orientations that prepare the organism for appropriate responses. Recent evidence casts serious doubt on this assumption. Instead of motivational orientations, evaluative-coding mechanisms may be responsible for the effect of stimulus valence on approach-avoidance responses. Three studies tested contrasting predictions derived from these two accounts. Results supported motivational theories, as stimulus valence facilitated compatible approach-avoidance responses even though participants had no intention to approach or to avoid the stimuli, and the valence of the response labels was dissociated from the approach and avoidance movements (Study 1). Stimulus valence also facilitated compatible approach-avoidance responses when participants were not required to process the valence of the stimuli (Studies 2a and 2b). These findings are at odds with the evaluative-coding account and support the notion of a unique, automatic link between the perception of valence and approach-avoidance behavior.

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