Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

2010, Vol. 98, No. 2, 201–210

© 2010 American Psychological Association
0022-3514/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0017992

Bring It On: Angry Facial Expressions Potentiate Approach-Motivated
Motor Behavior
Benjamin M. Wilkowski

Brian P. Meier

University of Wyoming

Gettysburg College

Although many psychological models suggest that human beings are invariably motivated to avoid
negative stimuli, more recent theories suggest that people are frequently motivated to approach angering
social challenges in order to confront and overcome them. To examine these models, the current
investigation sought to determine whether angry facial expressions potentiate approach-motivated motor
behaviors. Across 3 studies, individuals were faster to initiate approach movements toward angry facial
expressions than to initiate avoidance movements away from such facial expressions. This approach
advantage differed significantly from participants’ responses to both emotionally neutral (Studies 1 & 3)
and fearful (Study 2) facial expressions. Furthermore, this pattern was most apparent when physical
approach appeared to be effective in overcoming the social challenge posed by angry facial expressions
(Study 3). The results are discussed in terms of the processes underlying anger-related approach
motivation and the conditions under which they are likely to arise.
Keywords: anger, approach motivation, motor behavior, facial expressions

review). Although individuals high in self-reported approach motivation respond to positive incentive stimuli with higher levels of
positive affect (Carver & White, 1994; Gable, Reis, & Elliot,
2000), they also respond to frustrations and interpersonal provocations with higher levels of anger and aggression (Carver, 2004;
Harmon-Jones & Peterson, 2008). In a similar vein, left-lateralized
prefrontal activity increases following exposure to positive incentive stimuli (see Coan & Allen, 2003, for a review), but it also
increases following interpersonal provocations (Harmon-Jones,
Lueck, Fearn, & Harmon-Jones, 2006; Harmon-Jones & Sigelman,
2001; Harmon-Jones, Sigelman, Bohlig, & Harmon-Jones, 2003).
The purpose of the current investigation is to examine these
competing models in a novel domain, namely the activation of
approach- and avoidance-related motor behaviors. Past researchers
have suggested that negative stimuli, broadly speaking, will activate avoidance-related motor behaviors (e.g., Chen & Bargh,
1999). We contend that angry facial expressions represent an
important exception to this pattern. There are a variety of explicit
(Horstmann, 2003; Knutson, 1996; Yik & Russell, 1999) and
implicit (Adams, Ambady, Macrae, & Kleck, 2006; Lobmaier,
Tiddeman, & Perrett, 2008) sources of data suggesting that angry
facial expressions communicate an intention to confront another
person aggressively. As such, angry facial expressions represent an
ecologically valid and important social challenge which should
predispose individuals for approach-motivated motor behavior.

One of the most basic decisions any organism must make is
whether to approach or avoid specific stimuli (Hastie & Dawes,
2001; Schneirla, 1959). Approaching positive stimuli, such as food
or potential mates, is vital to the organism’s continued survival and
reproduction. Similarly, the avoidance of hazardous stimuli, including predators and poisonous foods, is vital in averting injury,
sickness, and death. Consistent with these assertions, a number of
psychological models (e.g., Davidson, 1992; Watson, Wiese,
Vaidya, & Tellegen, 1999) posit that human beings have evolved
two motivational systems. One system is thought to involve the left
prefrontal cortex, pleasant emotions, and the approach of positive
stimuli. A second system is thought to involve the right prefrontal
cortex, unpleasant emotions, and the avoidance of negative stimuli.
More recent models, however, suggest that human beings are
not invariably motivated to avoid negative stimuli (Carver, 2004;
Harmon-Jones, 2003). These theories argue that when we are faced
with a challenge to our social status (Mazur & Booth, 2005; van
Honk & Schutter, 2005) or our social relationships (Fischer &
Roseman, 2007), the most adaptive response is not to immediately
avoid and abandon our long-held social positions. Instead, we
should approach these challenges in order to confront and overcome them. The emotion of anger appears to be especially critical
in this regard (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009; Harmon-Jones,
2003) and is seen as instrumental in motivating individuals to
overcome obstacles to effective goal pursuit (Berkowitz, 1989;
Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004).
Both personality-related and neurological investigations support
the latter perspective (see Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009, for a

Automatic Predispositions to Approach or Avoid
Affective Stimuli
Researchers initially posited a hard interface between the perception of affective stimuli and certain motor movements (Cacioppo, Priester, & Bernston, 1993; Zajonc & Markus, 1985).
Positive stimuli were seen as potentiating arm flexions (involved
in pulling objects toward one’s self), whereas negative stimuli
were seen as potentiating arm extensions (involved in pushing

Benjamin M. Wilkowski, Department of Psychology, University of
Wyoming; Brian P. Meier, Department of Psychology, Gettysburg College.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Benjamin
M. Wilkowski, Department of Psychology, University of Wyoming, Department 3415, 1000 East University Avenue, Laramie, WY 82071. E-mail:
BWilkows@uwyo.edu
201

& Sheeren. 1990) have put forward a cybernetic model of angerrelated approach motivation.g. one initiates actions aimed at decreasing the distance between one’s self and the goal of overcoming a social challenge. Carver & Scheier. Lavendar & Hommel. rather than a simple muscle movement. They have been shown to communicate a challenge to one’s resources (Sell et al. In the first “test” stage. In these studies. 1990. the individual’s perception of their physical and social world is compared to stored goals and desires. 2000. Although these studies seem to suggest that angry facial expressions potentiate avoidance-related motor behaviors.. In it. In order to assess the activation of approach motivation. As discussed next. Jaudas. Goals display several defining characteristics. Importantly. Important to current concerns. Gottman & Krokoff. these theories instead suggest that angry facial expressions should prime a more flexible goal of distance reduction. 2000). 2008. Carver.. positive and negative stimuli (broadly construed) prime more flexible goals to approach or avoid. Carver and colleagues (Carver. physical approach toward a social challenge). A number of studies tested these theories by asking participants to execute flexor or extensor movements in response to presented affective stimuli. Rotteveel and Phaf (2004. To the extent that another person or object is viewed as a challenge to important approach-oriented goals. Instead. Although many situations (e. goals involve the flexible use of multiple possible actions to achieve the desired ends.. We thus tested the hypothesis that people would be faster to respond to angry facial expressions with whichever movement (arm flexion or extension) achieves the goal of distance reduction (Studies 1–3) and that they would be especially likely to show this pattern when approach toward angry facial expressions appeared to be effective in overcoming the social challenge they pose (Study 3). 2004. Garcia. Carver et al.g.. the second “operate” stage takes actions designed to approach this social challenge. Facial expressions appeared in a box at either the top or bottom of a computer screen. 2002. 1989). 1996. Study 1 In Study 1. Parks-Stamm. As such. These actions can occur at various levels of abstraction.. Gollwitzer. Studies 1 & 3) had participants categorize angry and happy facial expressions by performing either a flexor or extensor movement. We expected that participants would be faster to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions. & Scheier. respectively (Chen & Bargh. and overcome its unwanted influence. ranging from quite abstract (e. 2004. arm flexion). with the word “ME” . Moreover. According to the criterion of substitutability. 2005). angry facial expressions are likely to play a particularly important role in this regard.g. 2007. 2000) were first initiated by asking participants to categorize the emotional expression of a displayed face. A Cybernetic Model of Anger-Related Approach Motivation Carver and colleagues (Carver. these studies created a more realistic context whereby the execution of specific motor movements can serve the goal of distance reduction or distance amplification. theories of anger-related approach motivation do not propose that angry facial expressions rigidly prime one specific arm movement (Carver. In the current investigation. 2004. Markman & Brendl. Duckworth. participants were faster to initiate extensor movements in response to angry facial expressions. 1999. Sutton. Solarz. They suggest that goal pursuit can be conceptualized as a feedback loop in which two stages of processing iteratively repeat until the goal has been achieved. two investigations specifically tested whether the perception of angry facial expressions potentiated avoidance-related extensor movements. it suggests that angry facial expressions activate a flexible goal of distance reduction. Bargh. 2008). we compared participants’ speed to initiate approach and avoidance movements in response to angry versus emotionally neutral facial expressions. confront it. We took several steps to establish that angry facial expressions activate a true goal to approach. Instead of simply asking participants to execute a flexor or extensor movement in response to affective stimuli. Once brought online.202 WILKOWSKI AND MEIER objects away from one’s self). & Chaiken. goal pursuit is intensified when an opportunity to reach one’s desired ends is presented. which can be achieved through a variety of potential behaviors. 2000) conceptualized this stage of processing as a discrepancy-reducing loop. Later research on affect–motor relations has lent credence to the perspective of Carver and colleagues (Bamford & Ward. depending on which serves the respective goals of distance reduction or distance amplification.. the theorized “test” operations (Carver & Scheier. Consistent with a hard interface account. These studies have shown that rather than priming specific muscle movements... we predicted that angry facial expressions would potentiate approach-motivated movements to a greater degree than both emotionally neutral facial expressions (Studies 1 & 3) and fearful facial expressions (Study 2). insults or unintentional frustrations) could potentially represent an anger-related challenge. this model does not posit a hard interface between the perception of angry facial expressions and a specific arm movement (e. relative to avoidance movements away from them. According to the criterion of energization.g. a goal which is sensitive to current environmental contingencies and which can prime multiple potential actions in order to achieve its desired ends. redirecting a conversation to a point of contention) to very concrete (e. 2005). we employed a similar paradigm to test the hypothesis that angry facial expressions potentiate motor movements serving the goal of distance reduction. Carver et al. whereas Marsh. and social relationships (Fischer & Roseman. 2007. these studies found that positive and negative stimuli led to the faster initiation of flexor and extensor movements. 1960). In both studies. the second stage of anger-related approach motivation is activated. social status (van Honk & Schutter. The Current Investigation Three studies were conducted to test the hypothesis that angry facial expressions would potentiate approach-motivated motor behavior. They have found that positive and negative stimuli can speed the initiation of either flexor or extensor movements. participants were asked to complete this categorization task by performing either an approach movement toward the face or an avoidance movement away from the face. 2009). Carver et al. including substitutability and energization (Gollwitzer & Moskowitz. Ambady. and Kleck (2005) had participants categorize angry and fearful facial expressions in a similar manner.

e. To correct for a positively skewed distribution. 2007.6% of trials) were then winsorized. In all studies. neutral) ⫻ 2 (arm movement: flexion vs. p ⬍ . Participants completed the two block types (i. 27 men. All faces displayed direct eye gaze.86. an angry or neutral facial expression appeared in either the top or bottom box. Because the central interactions of interest held across all levels of these factors. Participants were asked to imagine that the word “ME” represented themselves and that by moving this word they were moving themselves through space (see Markman & Brendl. the next trial began immediately (contingent on screen refresh rates). Participants were instructed to move the word “ME” all the way to the edge of the screen. In Study 3. 2007).5 SDs above or below the mean (2. 2009.. Procedure. Past research has confirmed that people can begin to adopt a spatial perspective other than their own beginning as early as age 4 (e. participants were told that two black boxes outlined in white would appear at the top and bottom of the screen. Participants completed the session on one of four Windows-based computers using E-Prime software (Version 2. upon reaching the edge of the screen.ANGRY EXPRESSIONS AND APPROACH BEHAVIOR situated halfway in between these boxes at center screen. Participants were instructed that the particular direction they should move would vary by block. F(1. Participants were instructed to imagine that the word “ME” represented themselves and that by moving this word they were moving themselves through space (see Markman & Brendl. these instructions were reversed.5 years) from the University of Wyoming participated in exchange for either course credit or extra credit.38. and they were required to respond with a flexor movement to each facial expression type on 15 trials and with an extensor movement on 15 trials within each block. RTs were next log-transformed. participants could reduce or increase the distance between themselves and the facial expression using either a flexor or extensor movement in a fully crossed design (see Bamford & Ward. If participants began their joystick movement prior to stimulus onset. they received a 1. F(1. Participants completed 60 trials in each of four blocks. Participants were told to categorize the facial expression by moving either toward the face or toward the white box. Torralbo.g. whereas arm flexions resulted in the word “ME” moving downward on the screen.50). We predicted that participants would be quicker to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions and that facial expressions would exert no direct influence on flexor versus extensor movements. Once they had done so. for a similar design feature). the Facial Expression ⫻ Direction ⫻ Stimulus Face Gender interaction approached but did not reach traditional levels of significance ( p ⫽ . with the constraint that each face stimulus had to be presented once before any face stimulus could be displayed a subsequent time. M age ⫽ 19.0). Furthermore. the word “RETURN” replaced the word “ME.1% of trials) were first discarded. If participants moved the joystick in the incorrect direction. RTs 2. participants were instructed to move toward angry facial expressions and away from neutral facial expressions. 2008. Although analyses were conducted in terms of these log-transformed values. Arm extensions resulted in the word “ME” moving upward on the computer screen. The angry and neutral facial expressions of three male and three female actors were selected from Ekman and Friesen’s (1976) highly validated set of facial expressions for use in the study.500-ms false start message. The computer program recorded the time for the participant to initiate movement. and the trial started over. for similar designs). 1 Participant gender never qualified any effects of theoretical interest (all ps ⬎ . Participants were instructed to indicate the facial 203 expression was neutral by moving toward it and to indicate the facial expression was angry by moving toward the white box. Data preparation.500-ms error message. means are reported in terms of the original RT metric for ease of interpretation. Reaction time (RT) data were handled in accordance with recommendations in the literature (Robinson.” directing the participant to return their joystick to center screen. & Lupia´n˜ez. Method Participants. they were dropped from the final analyses. At the beginning of each trial. p ⬍ . Participants arrived at the laboratory. but this effect appeared more pronounced for male (M difference ⫽ 203 ms) than female faces (M difference ⫽ 178 ms). . for a similar manipulation). extension) ⫻ 2 (direction: toward face vs. Thus. & Meier. as well as whether they moved the joystick in the correct direction. Santiago. and Markman & Brendl. Leung & Cohen. 2005. with the first block type counterbalanced across participants. preliminary analyses included both participant gender and stimulus face gender as additional factors. Carter. for a total of 240 trials. whereas the alternative box turned solid white.1 Significant main effects were found for facial expression. they received a 1.14). provided informed consent. Because we were interested in the time to correctly initiate the required movement. it has been found that individuals will sometimes spontaneously adopt the visual perspective of another (Leung & Cohen. 2005. 1975).0001. Results RT data were submitted to a 2 (facial expression: angry vs. Then 500 ms after the initial presentation of the boxes.053). Participants saw exactly 30 angry expressions and 30 neutral expressions within each block. away from face) repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). and were verbally informed that the purpose of the study concerned how people categorize facial expressions. with the word “ME” situated halfway in between them at center screen. Eighty-two undergraduate psychology students (55 women. Apparatus and stimuli. 81) ⫽ 37. direction. In only one case did stimulus face gender qualify hypothesized effects (all other ps ⬎ . The computers were affixed with Saitek Aviator joysticks to allow participants to execute approach or avoidance movements. In two blocks of the experiment. In two additional blocks. Depending upon the particular block within the experiment.0001). Otherwise. 81) ⫽ 54.. participants were told to indicate the face was angry by moving toward the face and to indicate the face was neutral by moving toward the white box. trials involving a movement in the erroneous direction (6. The order of these trials types was randomly generated by the computer within each block. or vice versa. To reduce the undue impact of outliers.0001. 2007) and that perspective-taking alters people’s automatic representation of the self (Hauser. approach–anger or approach–neutral) in an alternating order. 2005. 2006). Participants were always faster to approach than avoid angry facial expressions (all ps ⬍ . Borke. More specific instructions were provided on screen.

90) ⫽ 12. Reaction time as a function of facial expression and movement direction in Study 1.01. 2005. F(1. 81) ⫽ 21. Participants were asked to move toward or away from angry or neutral facial expressions by either flexing or extending their arm. participants were equally fast to initiate movements toward (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 388) and initiated faster toward a face (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 241) than away from a face (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 240). we sought to build upon initial results and demonstrate that the effects of angry facial expressions are different from those of another negative facial expression. outliers winsorized ⫽ 2.044 ms.79. this effect was more pronounced with angry facial expressions (flexion: M ⫽ 950 ms. only angry facial expressions should potentiate approach-motivated motor behaviors (Carver & Harmon-Jones.026) were initiated faster than arm extensions (M ⫽ 1. Although both angry and fearful facial expressions are generally regarded as negative and arousing (Russell. 2004). and data preparation.038 ms. Although participants were faster to respond to neutral faces with flexor movements (M ⫽ 1.72. with the following exceptions: The fearful and angry facial expressions of three male and three female actors were selected from Ekman and Friesen’s (1976) stimulus set for use in Study 2. partial ␩2 ⫽ . SD ⫽ 249) than extensor movements. p ⬍ . To test this account. Regardless of the particular arm movement involved (flexion or extension). Moreover. and arm movement. F(1. Knutson. 2009. The apparatus and procedure used were identical to Study 1. namely fear. p ⬍ . Movements were initiated faster in response to angry facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. arm flexions (M ⫽ 1.001.026 ms. SD ⫽ 385). SD ⫽ 1. M age ⫽ 19.59. p ⫽ . itz. participants were faster to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions.442 ms.. SD ⫽ 277) or away from (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 416) than fearful facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 240). SD ⫽ 385) than away from a face (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 232.0001. Cacioppo et al.405 ms. Movements were initiated faster in response to angry facial expressions (M ⫽ 983 ms.37. 1997). p ⫽ . SD ⫽ 241) than away from them (M ⫽ 1.493 ms. 90) ⫽ 24. 90) ⫽ 10..34. 2008).046. 82) ⫽ 76. 2005.14. extension) ⫻ 2 (direction: toward face vs. 81) ⫽ 13. 1993). SD ⫽ 241). flexion or extension). p ⫽ . 81) ⫽ 4.040 ms. F(1. SD ⫽ 371) were initiated faster than arm exten- .0001. Yik & Russell. Of greater theoretical interest was the significant Facial Expression ⫻ Direction interaction. Each within-subject cell of the design now consisted of precisely 20 trials instead of 30.6% of trials.048 ms.0005. van Honk & Schutter. 71 women.204 WILKOWSKI AND MEIER and arm movement. RTs were analyzed in terms of a 2 (facial expression: angry vs. 1987). direction. Discussion Method The results of Study 1 clearly supported the hypothesis. fearful) ⫻ 2 (arm movement: flexion vs. in that the goal of distance reduction could be achieved through multiple possible motor movements (i. Gollwitzer et al.041 ms. F(1. arm flexions (M ⫽ 991 ms.360 ms.e. The results therefore support models contending that angry facial expressions potentiate a flexible goal to approach (Carver & Harmon-Jones. Interestingly. Apparatus.. the pattern of means was opposite of that obtained in prior research (Marsh et al. Moreover.003 ms. only angry expressions convey confrontational intentions (Adams et al.411 ms. away from face) repeated-measures ANOVA. SD ⫽ 259). 2009.0005. SD ⫽ 259). To decrease the length of the experiment. p ⬍ . F(1. van Honk & Schutter. (M ⫽ 1. the pattern obtained was opposite of that observed in prior research (Marsh et al.. 2006. As predicted. The Facial Expression ⫻ Arm Movement interaction was also significant. F(1. This hypothesized interaction is depicted in Figure 1. p ⬍ .0001. Rotteveel & Phaf. 81) ⫽ 29. we employed a procedure similar to Study 1 to compare participants’ speed to initiate approach and avoidance movements in response to angry and fearful facial expressions. though. 1996. F(1.85. SD ⫽ 252) neutral facial expressions (F ⬍ 1). 81) ⫽ 6. rather than arm extensions (putatively linked to avoidance. a large effect size (Cohen.0% of trials). SD ⫽ 239) than neutral facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. F(1. F(1. Rotteveel & Phaf. SD ⫽ 256) and faster when initiated toward a face (M ⫽ 981 ms. extension: M ⫽ 1.039 ms.52.01. 2004). Study 2 Results Figure 1. stimuli. Thus.031 ms. Angry facial expressions actually sped the initiation of arm flexions (putatively linked to approach. By contrast. Because this result is not consistent across laboratories or even across studies within the current investigation (see Studies 2–3). Main effects were found for facial expression. participants were faster to initiate movements toward angry facial expressions (M ⫽ 923 ms. 2005). 2005). they suggest that anger-related approach motivation shows the characteristic of substitutability (Gollwitzer & Moskow- Participants. p ⫽ . Ninety-one undergraduate psychology students (22 men. procedure. In Study 2. Study 2 consisted of 160 trials instead of 240. this effect was particular to angry facial expressions and did not extend to neutral facial expressions.. Cacioppo et al.4 years) from the University of Wyoming participated in exchange for either course credit or extra credit. 1993).11. Although there was also an independent tendency for angry facial expressions to potentiate specific arm movements.0001. RT data were prepared as in Study 1 (errors discarded ⫽ 9.. we suggest that it should be interpreted with caution. 1996. 1999). All other effects in this analysis were nonsignificant (F ⬍ 1).. p ⫽ .

2003. 90) ⫽ 22. 2005). we sought to test this idea.447 ms.0002.15. When individuals display this expression. de Waal. Table 3). 2005) and provide no support for models suggesting that angry facial expressions should potentiate avoidance-related behaviors (e. 2008. All other effects within this analysis. whereas they were (nonsignificantly) faster to initiate avoidance movements away from fearful facial expressions. SD ⫽ 432). Method Participants. SD ⫽ 416). namely the facial expression of fear (de Waal. 2005). SD ⫽ 379) than toward a face (M ⫽ 1. movements away from fearful facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. 1985). 1986. 2009. In Study 3. and other evolutionarily important resources (de Waal. p ⬍ . 52 men. Participants were faster to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions. and they do not potentiate any specific arm movement. 90) ⫽ 29. interactions revealing the differential effect of the response effect manipulation across facial expressions did not reach significance in this 12-participant study. SD ⫽ 395) were initiated faster than movements toward fearful facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. 1987). 1986. highly similar expressions are displayed by nonhuman primates prior to and during aggressive contests over food. In Study 3.g. then approach movements toward angry facial expressions should be especially fast when they appear to be effective in achieving this goal. 205 Study 3 Prior theory suggests that the ultimate function of anger-related approach motivation is to confront and overcome social challenges (Carver & Harmon-Jones.0001. . M age ⫽ 19. were nonsignificant (F ⬍ 1). One-hundred sixty-six undergraduate psychology students (114 women. There was also a Direction ⫻ Arm Movement interaction. This interaction is displayed graphically in Figure 2. p ⫽ . F(1. Beyond this. for a similar response effect manipulation2).30. F(1. angry facial expressions should certainly not instill a desire to please the person displaying this expression. results clearly indicate that angry facial expressions potentiate movements which serve the goal of distance reduction. van Honk & Schutter. 2009. 1992. 1993. 1986. F(1. a large effect size (Cohen. Indeed. movements toward angry facial expressions (M ⫽ 1..ANGRY EXPRESSIONS AND APPROACH BEHAVIOR sions (M ⫽ 1. we conducted a higher powered test of our hypotheses derived from theories of anger-related approach motivation. van Honk & Schutter. partial ␩2 ⫽ . SD ⫽ 394). as participants were faster to approach happy faces when it resulted in the face becoming even happier.. 1977. 2003). 90) ⫽ 15. In contrast. this was true regardless of whether arm extensions or arm flexions were involved. SD ⫽ 444).406 ms. Watson et al. there is also a wellknown signal of defeat and submission that ends such encounters. mates. Öhman. SD ⫽ 428) were initiated faster than movements away from angry facial expressions (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 399) than when moving away from a face (M ⫽ 1. We reasoned that if the ultimate function of approach-motivated motor behavior is to overcome social challenges. 2005). Zajonc & Markus. Thus. Study 3.4 years) from the University of Wyoming participated in exchange for either course credit or extra credit.0001.311 ms. 2005). 2009. We predicted that approach movements toward angry facial expressions would be initiated especially fast in this context.410 ms. Figure 2. namely fear. precisely because they appear to be effective in overcoming the social challenge posed by the angry stimulus faces.09. Angry facial expressions are certainly a well-established signal of intentions to challenge another individual aggressively (Camras. this latter change in expressions should not serve to further potentiate the approach of angry facial expressions. 90) ⫽ 1.03. we therefore created a condition in which a displayed face switched from an angry to a fearful facial expression following the execution of an approach movement (see Bamford & Ward. SD ⫽ 393). it serves as a clear indication that they are yielding the contested resource to their opponent.474 ms. Unfortunately.489 ms. 1999) or specific arm movements (Cacioppo et al. As predicted. Of greater theoretical interest was the significant Facial Expression ⫻ Direction interaction. arm extensions appeared to be initiated quicker when moving toward a face (M ⫽ 1. van Honk & Schutter. van Honk & Schutter. Reaction time as a function of facial expression and movement direction in Study 2. Their response effect manipulation clearly had an effect on the speed to approach happy faces.512 ms. although this latter effect did not reach significance. 2008.415 ms. According to prior theory (Carver & Harmon-Jones.94. Discussion The results of Study 2 demonstrated that the motoric reaction to angry facial expressions is different from the reaction to another negative facial expression. The results of Study 2 therefore converge with Study 1’s results in suggesting that angry facial expressions potentiate a goal of approach (Carver & Harmon-Jones. Davidson. Moreover. Study 3) used a design in which happy or angry facial expressions could grow happier or angrier depending upon whether an approach or avoidance movement was executed. We compared this to a condition in which approach movements had the effect of making angry faces become happy. 2 Bamford and Ward (2008. participants appeared to be consistently faster to approach angry facial expressions regardless of response effect condition in this study (see Bamford & Ward. van Honk & Schutter. Thus. p ⬍ . To model this process. However.52. including the Facial Expression ⫻ Arm Movement interaction. p ⫽ . F(1. In Study 3. Although arm flexions appeared to be initiated quicker when moving away from a face (M ⫽ 1. we relied on established analyses of how facial expressions are employed in conflict situations (Camras.. 1977. 1986).395 ms.

054. SD ⫽ 282) than away from a face (M ⫽ 1. Participants were faster to initiate movements in response to angry (M ⫽ 1. F(1.0001.0001. p ⬍ . 164) ⫽ 33. p ⫽ . For participants assigned to the approach– happy condition.275 ms. There was also an Arm Movement ⫻ Direction interaction. SD ⫽ 331. SD ⫽ 259) angry facial expressions than away from them (M ⫽ 1.17. When focusing on angry facial expressions alone. this same pattern appeared more pronounced for arm extensions (toward: M ⫽ 1.12.75. it was conducted using multilevel modeling (Raudenbush & Bryk.0001.189 ms.0001. Snijders & Bosker. movement direction. we next conducted tests focused on each facial expression condition separately considered. This two-way interaction was qualified by the predicted threeway interaction involving response effect. SD ⫽ 286). To reduce the length of the experiment. SD ⫽ 299). F(1.0001. and arm movement. outliers winsorized ⫽ 2. and away from neutral faces). the procedure consisted of only 160 trials instead of 240 as in Study 1 (i.76. with the following exceptions: Participants were randomly assigned by the computer to either the approach–fear or approach– happy response effect condition.181 ms.087 ms. SD ⫽ 275) than neutral (M ⫽ 1. p ⫽ . 82) ⫽ 6. away from face) ⫻ 2 (response effect: approach– fear vs. Results RT data were submitted to a 2 (facial expression: angry vs. p ⬍ .73. it was more robust in the approach–fear response effect condition. these contingencies were reversed. the angry. SD ⫽ 276). As illustrated there. partial ␩2 ⫽ . p ⫽ . 164) ⫽ 27. p ⬍ .250 ms. moving toward a face resulted in it becoming fearful.0002.03. F(1. t(164) ⫽ –2.65.09.. participants were somewhat slower to initiate movement toward (M ⫽ 1.241 ms. SD ⫽ 1.0001. By contrast. Although this interaction narrowly missed the standard criterion for significance. Movements in the incorrect direction resulted in a 1. 164) ⫽ 79. and the resulting effect is reported in the text. approach– happy) mixed-model ANOVA. –1 ⫽ approach– happy) was then entered as a betweensubjects moderator of this within-subject contrast. toward neutral. 1999). participants were faster to initiate movement toward (M ⫽ 1. neutral) ⫻ 2 (arm movement: flexion vs. To support this manipulation. SD ⫽ 350).242 ms. This response effect was delivered for 500 ms immediately following the successful completion of the required joystick movement.189 ms.500-ms error message and no response effect. neutral. F(1. Response effect condition (coded 1 ⫽ approach–fear. a large effect size (Cohen. 164) ⫽ 3. However.281 ms. away: M ⫽ 1. exactly 20 trials in each cell of the within-subject design). Figure 3. F(1. Arm flexions appeared to be faster when initiated toward a face (M ⫽ 1. The apparatus and procedure used were the same as in Study 1. Reaction time as a function of facial expression and movement direction (upper panel) and as a function of facial expression. 82) ⫽ 33. and all other movements (toward neutral. 164) ⫽ 14. SD ⫽ 403) neutral faces than away from them (M ⫽ 1. A planned comparison3 of this contrast indicated that it was fully significant. and data preparation.48.20. For participants in the approach–fear condition.202 ms. a Direction ⫻ Response Effect 3 Because this planned comparison involved an interaction across the within-subject and between-subjects levels of analysis. we note that the hypothesis suggests that the approach–fear response effect should speed movements toward angry facial expressions relative to all other movements (including movements away from angry.01. .72. p ⬍ . F(1. partial ␩2 ⫽ .1% of trials. with the first three factors manipulated on a within-subject basis and the final factor manipulated on a between-subjects basis. F(1. 164) ⫽ 36. 164) ⫽ 46. p ⫽ . The predicted three-way interaction is displayed in Figure 3 (lower panel). procedure. F(1.206 WILKOWSKI AND MEIER Apparatus.6% of trials). fearful. However. away from neutral.281). stimuli. p ⫽ . p ⬍ . This coded variable was first entered as a within-subject predictor of RTs. whereas moving away from a face resulted in it becoming happy. SD ⫽ 309) facial expressions and faster to initiate movements toward faces (M ⫽ 1. 1987). Of greater theoretical interest was the significant Facial Expression ⫻ Direction interaction.05. and response effect condition (lower panel) in Study 3.02. F(1. direction. SD ⫽ 300). p ⬍ .176 ms. SD ⫽ 277) were initiated faster than arm extensions (M ⫽ 1. 164) ⫽ 1.208 ms. extension) ⫻ 2 (direction: toward face vs. and happy facial expressions of three male and three female actors were selected from Ekman and Friesen’s (1976) stimulus set.292 ms. To better isolate the locus of these effects. Collapsing across response effect conditions. whereas moving away from the face resulted in it becoming fearful.63.42. This interaction replicates Studies 1 and 2 and is displayed in Figure 3 (upper panel). RT data were prepared as in Studies 1 and 2 (errors discarded ⫽ 7. Significant main effects were found for facial expression. although this effect did not reach significance. 2002. 1997). away from anger) were coded as –1 (Abelson & Prentice.e. Moving toward the face resulted in it becoming happy. F(1.202 ms. Trials involving approach movements toward angry faces were coded as 3 at the within-subject level of analysis. arm flexions (M ⫽ 1. SD ⫽ 296) than away from them (M ⫽ 1. a small effect size. the previously documented Facial Expression ⫻ Direction interaction was apparent in the approach– happy response effect condition.

the current studies found no evidence of this. 2005) suggests that the ultimate function of anger-related approach motivation is to confront and overcome the social challenge posed by another person.. Once the nature of the motor movement was disambiguated. Thus. 2005). In Study 3.. p ⫽ . we conclude that angry facial expressions prime a goal to approach social challenges and overcome their unwanted influence. 2005. Angry facial expressions provide a particularly apt and ecologically valid social challenge. One could propose that the results of Studies 1 and 2 were due to salience effects (see Rothermund & Wentura. Rotteveel & Phaf. rather than any specific motor behavior. A defining characteristic of goals is energization (Gollwitzer & Moskowitz. In sum. The results of three studies supported this prediction. Davidson.. participant could adopt a rule of moving toward the more salient faces. the results of Study 3 are important for two additional reasons. 2004) found that angry facial expressions led to the faster initiation of arm extensions (putatively linked to avoidance. Cacioppo et al. 1993).96. in that they communicate a desire to confront another person aggressively (Adams et al.048. the results of Study 3 dispute a salience account but support theories of anger-related approach motivation (Carver & Harmon-Jones. However. Gollwitzer et al. Watson et al. That is. it cannot account for the results of Study 3. we seldom hold another person’s face in our hand and push it away. rather than a specific motor movement.. Across all studies. Consistent with predictions. Under these conditions. By contrast. participants were faster to initiate approach movements toward angry faces than avoidance movements away from them. the evidence clearly supports the position that angry facial expressions activate a flexible goal to approach which is sensitive to the degree with which motor movements achieve the desired ends (Gollwitzer & Moskowitz. they switched to a fearful facial expression). 1999). 164) ⫽ 3.g. 2009). 1992. Under such conditions.ANGRY EXPRESSIONS AND APPROACH BEHAVIOR interaction emerged. this movement appears to be effective in reaching one’s ultimate goal).. we sought to remove such ambiguities by creating a more realistic context in which the execution of various motor movements could achieve the goals of distance reduction or distance amplification (Bamford & Ward. That is. An important consideration across all studies was that approachmotivated movements can be achieved via various movements. including both arm flexions and arm extensions. 2001). Yik & Russell. no such interaction emerged when focusing on neutral facial expressions (F ⬍ 1). How can one explain these discrepancies? Past studies presented facial expressions on screen and asked participants to initiate arm flexions or extensions in response to them. Despite the plausibility of such a salience explanation for Studies 1 and 2. this approach advantage did not extend to neutral facial expressions (Study 1 & 3) or fearful facial expressions (Study 2). we therefore suggested that angry facial expressions should potentiate approach. the results of Study 3 help to rule out a potential alternative explanation for the results of prior studies. Finally. 2008. it is difficult to tell how participants conceptualized their relationship to the depicted faces. Lundqvist. 1996. goal pursuit is intensified when an opportunity for achieving the goal is presented. 1999). Knutson. the speed to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions was quickened. To test this idea. In the current investigation. It is perhaps more likely that participants conceptualized themselves as performing a punching movement toward angry facial expressions. van Honk & Schutter. 2005). F(1. including both substitutability (Studies 1 & 2) and energization (Study 3).. indicating that the approach advantage for angry faces was more apparent in the approach–fear response effect condition (M difference ⫽ 220 ms) than in the approach– happy response effect condition (M difference ⫽ 155 ms). we found that the speed to initiate approach movements toward angry facial expressions was faster under such conditions. angerrelated approach motivation seems to demonstrate several hallmark characteristic of goals. There is no reason to believe that the approach–fear response effect condition made angry faces more salient. Thus. Gollwitzer et al. 2008). 2009.. theories of angerrelated approach motivation provide a clear rationale for why signals of fear and submission would further potentiate the approach of angry faces (i.g. they support the idea that angry facial expressions prime a flexible goal to approach. & Esteves.e. The results of Study 3 thus support the idea that the ultimate goal of approaching angry individuals is to confront and overcome the challenge they pose. angry facial expressions could be construed as more salient than either neutral or fearful facial expressions (e. results became clear: Angry facial expression potentiated any motor movement which achieved the goal of distance reduction. Study 3 found that this pattern was most pronounced when the approach of angry facial expressions appeared to be effective in overcoming the social challenge they posed. As a result. . Moreover. Markman & Brendl. 2008)..10). By contrast. more recent theories suggest that people are motivated to approach angry social challenges in order to confront and overcome these challenges (Carver & Harmon-Jones. Although two prior investigations (Marsh et al. Finally. Cacioppo et al.rather than avoidance-motivated motor behaviors. All other effects in this analysis were not significant ( p ⬎ . Beyond supporting the putative function of anger-related approach motivation. 2009. van Honk & Schutter. Thus. in that approach appeared to be effective in forcing the displayed individual into submission. On the basis of theories of angerrelated approach motivation. (1993) originally equated arm extensions with avoidance because this movement is used to push objects away from one’s self. Öhman. First. we created a condition in which approaching angry facial expressions appeared to be effective in forcing this individual into submission (i. Discussion Prior theory (Carver & Harmon-Jones.e.. 207 General Discussion Summary of Findings Although some models suggest that human beings are invariably motivated to avoid negative stimuli (e. an opportunity for overcoming an angry social challenger was presented to participants in the approach–fear response condition. 2004).. 1996. 1996. 2006. a movement more consistent with approach motivation.

Such research would do much to help specify when and how anger-related approach motivation would appear in social interactions outside the psychological laboratory. see also Wilkowski & Robinson. Emotion. 1984. 107–130. 2003). References Abelson. and it is sensitive to how effective a given motor behavior is in achieving its desired ends. there are a number of important differences between a carefully controlled laboratory setting and the rich interactive world of daily social interaction. R. 198 –208. Motivation and Emotion. anger and aggressive approach predominate. Similarly. and Zuroff’s (2002) study of social behavior in daily life definitely indicates that people are less likely to respond to the quarrelsome behavior of high-status individuals with reciprocated quarrelsome behavior. 55. 2009) suggest that individuals engaged in an aggressive contest continually assess their opponent’s ability to inflict costs upon the self (i. Carver & Scheier. The current studies support the latter models. 1974. 2004. H. there is good reason to believe that the approachmotivated response to angry facial expressions would occur in actual social interactions. 4.g.. 2006).. more recent models suggest that people should be motivated to approach. demonstrating that left-lateralized frontal activity does not emerge if the objectionable nature of angering stimuli is not made salient (Harmon-Jones et al. Berkowitz. approach-motivated motor behavior may arise only if a means of confrontation is available in actual social interactions (e. 30. 59 –73. fear. A. van Mechelen. 1990). Berkowitz.208 WILKOWSKI AND MEIER From the Laboratory to Actual Social Interactions Can the results of these studies be easily generalized to life outside of the psychological laboratory? After all. E. In the current studies. When the opponent’s fighting abilities exceed their own. Rotteveel & Phaf.g. 2. E. cybernetic theories of anger-related approach motivation suggest that one must test for the presence of an angering social challenge before distance-reducing operations will be initiated (Carver. participants explicitly categorized facial expressions in order to initiate these test operations. Neurological studies indicate that in the absence of such approach opportunities. Predispositions to approach and avoid are contextually sensitive and goal dependent. Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. (2006). Conclusion Although many models suggest that human beings are invariably motivated to avoid negative stimuli (Davidson. then affective stimuli will not potentiate motor behaviors in the same fashion (Eder & Rothermund. 2000) suggest that anger-related approach motivation can sometimes be inhibited by fear. 1999). R.. R. 315–328. P. they may restrain themselves and yield to the wishes of the higher status person. B. Watson et al. Blair (2004) suggested that when lower status individuals encounter a more dominant person displaying an angry facial expression. 2000)... we outline these conditions in order to help guide future research on this subject. & Ward. confronting. 179 –188. Recent studies of affect–motor relations also support this position. Carver & Scheier. angering experiences do not lead to left-lateralized frontal activity (Harmon-Jones et al. Thus. theories of anger-related approach motivation suggest that a person must be aware of a means for approaching. R. Fournier. Frustration–aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformulation.. Brain and Cognition.. Here. N... joystick movements) and clearly labeled it as such. C. Borke. Ahadi. Developmental Psychology. Adams. 2007. & Prentice. 2006). 2004.. Thus. Indeed. This goal can be achieved by multiple possible motor behaviors (i. fear. (2004). in press). S. First.. Emotion.e. J.g. & Evans.. Carver. 2003). So long as the opponent’s ability remains below or equal to their own ability to inflict costs upon the opponent. (1989). Kuppens. Based on the cybernetic model which motivated the current investigation (Carver. Bamford. Along these lines. 2004. 2009. N.. 106. D. past studies of affect–motor relations have found that distracting participants from the affective nature of stimuli (e. 11. 1990. Macrae. but only under certain contexts which allow the test and operate stages of processing to be carried to completion. if the angry person is not leaving the room). showing that angry facial expressions potentiate movements which serve the goal of approach. showing that if a participant does not conceptualize an arm movement as an approach or avoidance opportunity. we suggest that future research should explore the conditions under which angry facial expressions potentiate approach-motivated motor behavior. Study 2). Thus. 240 –243. and overcome the social challenge posed by angry facial expressions (Carver & Harmon-Jones. L. Finally. 2005. Blair. 2005. Emotional expressions forecast approach-avoidance behavior. arm flexion or extension).. The roles of the orbital frontal cortex in the modulation of antisocial behavior. In the current studies.e. (1975). Piaget’s mountains revisited: Changes in the egocentric landscape. Moskowitz.. we made a means of approach readily available (i... . and overcoming the social challenge before distance reduction operations will be initiated (Harmon-Jones. Ambady. More specifically. and Melders (2004) have found that the external expression of anger is far less likely in conflicts with higher status individuals. R. Rothbart. Carver et al. In sum. their fighting ability). however. Psychological Methods. & Harmon-Jones. a number of models (e. L. 2000. submission. approach-motivated motor behavior would most likely emerge only if an individual successfully detects the angry facial expression of another.e. 8. the status of the person displaying an angry expression may also be an important factor in determining whether approach-motivated motor behavior emerges in actual social interactions. Carver et al. by asking them to focus on face gender or stimulus location) stops the potentiation of relevant motor behaviors (Lavendar & Hommel. Sell et al. Second.. (2004). 174 –183. 1992. confront. Parker. (2008). Psychological Bulletin. 2008). R. & Kleck. 2003. (1997). Neurological studies of anger also point to such test processes. It is therefore interesting to speculate that angry facial expressions may actually lead to avoidance-motivated motor behavior when an individual is clearly no match for his or her opponent. Harmon-Jones. and executive inhibition. Evolutionary theories of aggressive behavior (Maynard Smith & Riechart. Contrast tests of interaction hypotheses. known availability of approach opportunities. such research should explore the four proposed moderators outlined here— completion of the test process. cybernetic theories suggest that approach motivation may also be inhibited in a more controlled fashion through the exertion of top-down executive resources (Carver. Third. and flight behavior emerge instead.

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