Most people automatically withdraw from socially threatening situations. However, people high in trait anger could be an exception to this rule, and may even display an eagerness to approach hostile situations. To test this hypothesis, we asked 118 participants to complete an approach-avoidance task, in which participants made approach or avoidance movements towards faces with an angry or happy expression, and a direct or averted eye gaze. As expected, higher trait anger predicted faster approach (than avoidance) movements towards angry faces. Crucially, this effect occurred only for angry faces with a direct eye gaze, presumably because they pose a specific social threat, in contrast to angry faces with an averted gaze. No parallel effects were observed for happy faces, indicating that the effects of trait anger were specific to hostile stimuli. These findings suggest that people high in trait anger may automatically approach hostile interaction partners.
- Approach-avoidance motivation
- facial expressions
- trait anger