Threatening joy: Approach and avoidance reactions to emotions are influenced by the group membership of the expresser

Cognition and Emotion 28 (4):656-677 (2014)
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It has been repeatedly stated that approach and avoidance reactions to emotional faces are triggered by the intention signalled by the emotion. This line of thought suggests that each emotion signals a specific intention triggering a specific behavioural reaction. However, empirical results examining this assumption are inconsistent, suggesting that it might be too short-sighted. We hypothesise that the same emotional expression can signal different social messages and, therefore, trigger different reactions; which social message is signalled by an emotional expression should be influenced by moderating variables, such as the group membership of the expresser. In two experiments, we show that group membership influences approach and avoidance reactions to emotional expressions: Emotions (fear and happiness) expressed by in-group members elicited concordant behaviour, whereas emotions expressed by out-group members activated the reverse pattern. A third experiment, in which participants directly evaluated smiling and fearful individuals resembling in-group and out-group members supported this result.



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