Angry facial expressions bias towards aversive actions


Social interaction requires fast and efficient processing of another person’s intentions. In face-to-face interactions, aversive or appetitive actions typically co-occur with emotional expressions, allowing an observer to anticipate action intentions. In the present study, we investigated the influence of facial emotions on the processing of action intentions. Thirty-two participants were presented with video clips showing virtual agents displaying a facial emotion (angry vs. happy) while performing an action (punch vs. fist-bump) directed towards the observer. During each trial, video clips stopped at varying durations of the unfolding action, and participants had to recognize the presented action. Naturally, participants’ recognition accuracy improved with increasing duration of the unfolding actions. Interestingly, while facial emotions did not influence accuracy, there was a significant influence on participants’ action judgements. Participants were more likely to judge a presented action as a punch when agents showed an angry compared to a happy facial emotion. This effect was more pronounced in short video clips, showing only the beginning of an unfolding action, than in long video clips, showing near-complete actions. These results suggest that facial emotions influence anticipatory processing of action intentions allowing for fast and adaptive responses in social interactions.