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. 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

Free PMC article

Walk to Me When I Smile, Step Back When I'm Angry: Emotional Faces Modulate Whole-Body Approach-Avoidance Behaviors

John F Stins et al. Exp Brain Res. .
Free PMC article


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.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Top view of the COP displacement of a representative participant during a forward step (a) and a backward step (b). AP Anterio-posterior, ML Medio-lateral, RT reaction time. S1 to S3: Sections in the COP trajectory. See text for details
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Velocity profiles accompanying the steps shown in Fig. 1. RT reaction time
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Mean reaction times (RTs) for happy and angry steps, as a function of step direction (forward/angry). *P < .05. Error bars denote standard errors of the mean

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