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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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1
Research Institute MOVE, Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. j.stins@fbw.vu.nl

Abstract

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.

PMID:
21698468
PMCID:
PMC3133774
DOI:
10.1007/s00221-011-2767-z
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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