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26-10-2016 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2017

Psychological Research 6/2017

The effect of facial expressions on peripersonal and interpersonal spaces

Psychological Research > Uitgave 6/2017
Gennaro Ruggiero, Francesca Frassinetti, Yann Coello, Mariachiara Rapuano, Armando Schiano di Cola, Tina Iachini


Identifying individuals’ intent through the emotional valence conveyed by their facial expression influences our capacity to approach-avoid these individuals during social interactions. Here, we explore if and how the emotional valence of others’ facial expressiveness modulates peripersonal-action and interpersonal-social spaces. Through Immersive Virtual Reality, participants determined reachability-distance (for peripersonal space) and comfort-distance (for interpersonal space) from male/female virtual confederates exhibiting happy, angry and neutral facial expressions while being approached by (passive-approach) or walking toward (active-approach) them. Results showed an increase of distance when seeing angry rather than happy confederates in both approach conditions of comfort-distance. The effect also appeared in reachability-distance, but only in the passive-approach. Anger prompts avoidant behaviors, and thus an expansion of distance, particularly with a potential violation of near body space by an intruder. Overall, the findings suggest that peripersonal-action space, in comparison with interpersonal-social space, is similarly sensitive to the emotional valence of stimuli. We propose that this similarity could reflect a common adaptive mechanism shared by these spaces, presumably at different degrees, for ensuring self-protection functions.

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