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Exp Brain Res. 2011 Aug;212(4):603-11. doi: 10.1007/s00221-011-2767-z. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Walk to me when I smile, step back when I'm angry: emotional faces modulate whole-body approach-avoidance behaviors.

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Research Institute MOVE, Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Facial expressions are potent social cues that can induce behavioral dispositions, such as approach-avoidance tendencies. We studied these tendencies by asking participants to make whole-body forward (approach) or backward (avoidance) steps on a force plate in response to the valence of social cues (happy or angry faces) under affect-congruent and incongruent mappings. Posturographic parameters of the steps related to automatic stimulus evaluation, step initiation (reaction time), and step execution were determined and analyzed as a function of stimulus valence and stimulus-response mapping. The main result was that participants needed more time to initiate a forward step towards an angry face than towards a smiling face (which is evidence of a congruency effect), but with backward steps, this difference failed to reach significance. We also found a reduction in spontaneous body sway prior to the step with the incongruent mapping. The results provide a crucial empirical link between theories of socially induced action tendencies and theories of postural control and suggest a motoric basis for socially guided motivated behavior.

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