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Exp Brain Res. 2013 Aug;228(4):399-410. doi: 10.1007/s00221-013-3557-6. Epub 2013 Jul 5.

When a smile becomes a fist: the perception of facial and bodily expressions of emotion in violent offenders.

Author information

1
Psychology Department, University of Amsterdam, Weesperplein 4, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. m.e.kret@uva.nl

Abstract

Previous reports have suggested an enhancement of facial expression recognition in women as compared to men. It has also been suggested that men versus women have a greater attentional bias towards angry cues. Research has shown that facial expression recognition impairments and attentional biases towards anger are enhanced in violent criminal male offenders. Bodily expressions of anger form a more direct physical threat as compared to facial expressions. In four experiments, we tested how 29 imprisoned aggressive male offenders perceive body expressions by other males. The performance of all participants in a matching-to-sample task dropped significantly when the distracting image showed an angry posture. Violent offenders misjudged fearful body movements as expressing anger significantly more often than the control group. When violent offenders were asked to categorize facial expressions and ignore the simultaneously presented congruent or incongruent posture, they performed worse than the control group, specifically, when a smile was combined with an aggressive posture. Finally, violent offenders showed a greater congruency effect than controls when viewing postures as part of an emotionally congruent social scene and did not perform above chance when categorizing a happy posture presented in a fight scene. The results suggest that violent offenders have difficulties in processing emotional incongruence when aggressive stimuli are involved and a possible bias towards aggressive body language.

PMID:
23828232
PMCID:
PMC3710410
DOI:
10.1007/s00221-013-3557-6
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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