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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2010 Apr;36(2):500-7. doi: 10.1037/a0018169.

The impact of facial emotional expressions on behavioral tendencies in women and men.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany.


Emotional faces communicate both the emotional state and behavioral intentions of an individual. They also activate behavioral tendencies in the perceiver, namely approach or avoidance. Here, we compared more automatic motor to more conscious rating responses to happy, sad, angry, and disgusted faces in a healthy student sample. Happiness was associated with approach and anger with avoidance. However, behavioral tendencies in response to sadness and disgust were more complex. Sadness produced automatic approach but conscious withdrawal, probably influenced by interpersonal relations or personality. Disgust elicited withdrawal in the rating task, whereas no significant tendency emerged in the joystick task, probably driven by expression style. Based on our results, it is highly relevant to further explore actual reactions to emotional expressions and to differentiate between automatic and controlled processes because emotional faces are used in various kinds of studies. Moreover, our results highlight the importance of gender of poser effects when applying emotional expressions as stimuli.

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