Face your fears: direct and indirect measurement of responses to looming threats

Cognition and Emotion 38 (1):187-197 (2024)
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This study investigated the emotional and behavioural effects of looming threats using both recalled (self-reported valence) and real-time response measurements (facial expressions). The looming bias refers to the tendency to underestimate the time of arrival of rapidly approaching (looming) stimuli, providing additional time for defensive reactions. While previous research has shown negative emotional responses to looming threats based on self-reports after stimulus exposure, facial expressions offer valuable insights into emotional experiences and non-verbal behaviour during stimulus exposure. A face reading experiment examined responses to threats in motion, considering stimulus direction (looming versus receding motion) and threat strength (more versus less threatening stimuli). We also explored the added value of facial expression recognition compared to self-reported valence. Results indicated that looming threats elicit more negative facial expressions than receding threats, supporting previous findings on the looming bias. Further, more (vs. less) threatening stimuli evoked more negative facial expressions, but only when the threats were looming rather than receding. Interestingly, facial expressions of valence and self-reported valence showed opposing results, suggesting the importance of incorporating facial expression recognition to understand defensive responses to looming threats more comprehensively.



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