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Psychol Sci. 2011 Mar;22(3):314-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797611398492. Epub 2011 Feb 8.

Eye tracking unconscious face-to-face confrontations: dominance motives prolong gaze to masked angry faces.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands.


In primates, dominance/submission relationships are generally automatically and nonaggressively established in face-to-face confrontations. Researchers have argued that this process involves an explicit psychological stress-manipulation mechanism: Striding with a threatening expression, while keeping direct eye contact, outstresses rivals so that they submissively avert their gaze. In contrast, researchers have proposed a reflexive and implicit modulation of face-to-face confrontation in humans, on the basis of evidence that dominant and submissive individuals exhibit vigilant and avoidant responses, respectively, to facial anger in masked emotional Stroop tasks. However, these tasks do not provide an ecologically valid index of gaze behavior. Therefore, we directly measured gaze responses to masked angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions with a saccade-latency paradigm and found that increased dominance traits predict a more prolonged gaze to (or reluctance to avert gaze from) masked anger. Furthermore, greater non-dominance-related reward sensitivity predicts more persistent gaze to masked happiness. These results strongly suggest that implicit and reflexive mechanisms underlie dominant and submissive gaze behavior in face-to-face confrontations.

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