Embracing your emotions: affective state impacts lateralisation of human embraces

Abstract

Humans are highly social animals that show a wide variety of verbal and non-verbal behaviours to communicate social intent. One of the most frequently used non-verbal social behaviours is embracing, commonly used as an expression of love and affection. However, it can also occur in a large variety of social situations entailing negative (fear or sadness) or neutral emotionality (formal greetings). Embracing is also experienced from birth onwards in mother–infant interactions and is thus accompanying human social interaction across the whole lifespan. Despite the importance of embraces for human social interactions, their underlying neurophysiology is unknown. Here, we demonstrated in a well-powered sample of more than 2500 adults that humans show a significant rightward bias during embracing. Additionally, we showed that this general motor preference is strongly modulated by emotional contexts: the induction of positive or negative affect shifted the rightward bias significantly to the left, indicating a stronger involvement of right-hemispheric neural networks during emotional embraces. In a second laboratory study, we were able to replicate both of these findings and furthermore demonstrated that the motor preferences during embracing correlate with handedness. Our studies therefore not only show that embracing is controlled by an interaction of motor and affective networks, they also demonstrate that emotional factors seem to activate right-hemispheric systems in valence-invariant ways.

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Acknowledgements

Julian Packheiser was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through the Research Training Group “Situated Cognition” (GRK 2185/1). Additionally, we would like to thank John Tuff and Catrona Anderson for translating the cover stories from German to English. We also want to thank Judith Schmitz for proof-reading the manuscript. Finally, we would like to thank the reviewers for their helpful suggestions.

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JP and NR analysed the data, wrote the manuscript and supervised the experiments. SO conceived the experiment, analysed the data, supervised the experiments and reviewed the manuscript. OG reviewed the manuscript and provided the laboratory setting to perform the experiments. ZD, JM and AW performed the data acquisition.

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Correspondence to Julian Packheiser.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Packheiser, J., Rook, N., Dursun, Z. et al. Embracing your emotions: affective state impacts lateralisation of human embraces. Psychological Research 83, 26–36 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-0985-8

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