Facial expressions of emotion as motivational incentives
Do individuals' implicit motivational needsinfluence their perceptions of the reward or punishment value of facial expressions of emotion (FEE; e.g., joy, anger, or surprise)? In many ways, FEEs are highly complementary to implicit motives: Like motives, they can be processed outside of conscious awareness; they are nonverbal; like motives, which can be measured and used to predict behavior in many different cultures, FEEs are universally recognized; and like motives, which develop in infancy and early childhood, FEEs can be recognized and discriminated shortly after birth. Intriguingly, FEEs are also known to signal the sender's superiority (e.g., anger, smiling) or powerlessness (e.g., fear, surprise) vis-a-vis the perceiver, which should make them salient for power-motivated individuals, and the sender's friendliness (e.g., smiling) or hostility (e.g., disgust), which should make them salient for affiliation-motivated individuals (Stanton, Hall, & Schultheiss, 2010).
Several studies have been conducted at the HuMAN Lab to test this idea, providing converging evidence for a key role of FEEs in implicit motivation. For instance, power-motivated individuals direct their attention away from high-dominance FEEs like joy or anger and towards low-dominance FEEs like surprise, whereas affiliation-motivated individuals direct their attention towards friendly smiling faces and away from hostile anger faces (Schultheiss & Hale, 2007). Moreover, power-motivated individuals also show impaired learning of behavior that results in exposure to a smiling face (signaling superiority) and enhanced learning of behavior that results in exposure to a surprise face (signaling powerlessness; Schultheiss, Pang, Torges, Wirth, & Treynor, 2005). Finally, high-power individuals' brains show stronger activation in response to power-relevant FEEs than low-power individuals' brains (Schultheiss, Wirth, Waugh, Stanton, Meier, & Reuter-Lorenz, 2008)..
In ongoing research, supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the McClelland Center for Research and Innovation, we are now exploring whether implicit motives also influence individuals' ability to express specific emotions in the face and how one person's implicit motives influence another person's implicit motives via the exchange of facial signals of emotion. This work has also led to the development and validation of a picture and movie set of 80 male and female Caucasian individuals who encode facial expressions in various contexts and for whom data on implicit motives and other personality dispositions are available (Standardized and Motivated Facial Expressions of Emotion -- SMoFEE; contact Andreas G. Rösch).