The effect of facial expressions on peripersonal and interpersonal spaces

Gennaro Ruggiero, Francesca Frassinetti, Yann Coello, Mariachiara Rapuano, Armando Schiano Di Cola, Tina Iachini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying individuals’ intent through the emotional valence conveyed by their facial expression influences our capacity to approach-avoid these individuals during social interactions. Here, we explore if and how the emotional valence of others’ facial expressiveness modulates peripersonal-action and interpersonal-social spaces. Through Immersive Virtual Reality, participants determined reachability-distance (for peripersonal space) and comfort-distance (for interpersonal space) from male/female virtual confederates exhibiting happy, angry and neutral facial expressions while being approached by (passive-approach) or walking toward (active-approach) them. Results showed an increase of distance when seeing angry rather than happy confederates in both approach conditions of comfort-distance. The effect also appeared in reachability-distance, but only in the passive-approach. Anger prompts avoidant behaviors, and thus an expansion of distance, particularly with a potential violation of near body space by an intruder. Overall, the findings suggest that peripersonal-action space, in comparison with interpersonal-social space, is similarly sensitive to the emotional valence of stimuli. We propose that this similarity could reflect a common adaptive mechanism shared by these spaces, presumably at different degrees, for ensuring self-protection functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Oct 26 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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