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The Motivational Power of the Happy Face

Faculty of Psychology, Research Group Personality and Developmental Psychology, University of Basel, 4055 Basel, Switzerland
Department of Psychology, University Research Priority Program Dynamics of Healthy Aging, University of Zurich, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Brain Sci. 2019, 9(1), 6;
Received: 28 November 2018 / Revised: 21 December 2018 / Accepted: 31 December 2018 / Published: 7 January 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Perceptual and Affective Mechanisms in Facial Expression Recognition)
People who are cheerful have better social relationships. This might be the case because happy faces communicate an invitation to interact. Thus, happy faces might have a strong motivational effect on others. We tested this hypothesis in a set of four studies. Study 1 (N = 94) showed that approach reactions to happy faces are faster than other reactions to happy or angry faces. Study 2 (N = 99) found the same effect when comparing reactions to happy faces with reactions to disgusted faces. Supporting the notion that this effect is related to motivation, habitual social approach motivation intensified the motivational effect of happy faces (Study 3, N = 82). Finally, Study 4 (N = 40) showed that the reaction-time asymmetry does not hold for categorization tasks without approach and avoidance movements. These studies demonstrate that happy faces have a strong motivational power. They seem to activate approach reactions more strongly than angry or disgusted faces activate avoidance reactions. View Full-Text
Keywords: emotional faces; approach; avoidance; motivation; reaction times emotional faces; approach; avoidance; motivation; reaction times
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MDPI and ACS Style

Nikitin, J.; Freund, A.M. The Motivational Power of the Happy Face. Brain Sci. 2019, 9, 6.

AMA Style

Nikitin J, Freund AM. The Motivational Power of the Happy Face. Brain Sciences. 2019; 9(1):6.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Nikitin, Jana; Freund, Alexandra M. 2019. "The Motivational Power of the Happy Face" Brain Sci. 9, no. 1: 6.

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