Trait Dominance Promotes Reflexive Staring at Masked Angry Body Postures


It has been shown that dominant individuals sustain eye-contact when nonconsciously confronted with angry faces, suggesting reflexive mechanisms underlying dominance behaviors. However, dominance and submission can be conveyed and provoked by means of not only facial but also bodily features. So far few studies have investigated the interplay of body postures with personality traits and behavior, despite the biological relevance and ecological validity of these postures. Here we investigate whether non-conscious exposure to bodily expressions of anger evokes reflex-like dominance behavior. In an interactive eyetracking experiment thirty-two participants completed three social dominance tasks with angry, happy and neutral facial, bodily and face and body compound expressions that were masked from consciousness. We confirmed our predictions of slower gaze-aversion from both non-conscious bodily and compound expressions of anger compared to happiness in high dominant individuals. Results from a follow-up experiment suggest that the dominance behavior triggered by exposure to bodily anger occurs with basic detection of the category, but not recognition of the emotional content. Together these results suggest that dominant staring behavior is reflexively driven by non-conscious perception of the emotional content and triggered by not only facial but also bodily expression of anger.