Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 384–391 | Cite as

What you want to avoid is what you see: Social avoidance motivation affects the interpretation of emotional faces

  • Jana NikitinEmail author
  • Alexandra M. Freund
Original Paper


This study investigated the effects of habitual social approach and avoidance motivation on the classification of facial expressions of different visual clarity. Participants (N = 78) categorized partially masked emotional faces expressing either anger or happiness as positive or negative. Participants generally tended to interpret the facial expressions in a positive way. This positivity effect was reduced when persons were highly avoidance motivated. Social avoidance motivation predicted fewer positive and more negative interpretations in the least visible condition that provided extremely little information on the facial expression. Thus, people high in social avoidance motivation are likely to have anticipated angry faces as the facial stimuli offered only minimal information. The results for social approach motivation did not reach statistical significance. To conclude, it seems that persons who are most afraid of having negative social interactions (i.e., those high in social avoidance motivation), anticipate and interpret social information in the most negative way, which could lead to the reinforcement of the avoidance motivation.


Social motivation Approach Avoidance Emotional faces Social-information processing 



This research was supported by a Grant of the funding by Suzanne and Hans Biäsch Foundation for Applied Psychology, Switzerland (principle investigator: Jana Nikitin). We thank the Life-Management team for helpful discussions of the work reported in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and University Research Priority Program Dynamics of Healthy AgingUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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