Beyond Personality Traits: Which Facial Expressions Imply Dominance in Two-Person Interaction Scenes?

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The ability to perceive a person’s dominance plays an important role in survival and pro-social behavior. Perceived dominance has been investigated via assessments of facial expressions in 1-on-1 interaction situations, with expressions of anger and disgust judged to be more dominant. Given that human social interactions are complex, and multiple individuals interact at the same time, we investigated perceptions of trait dominance (an individual’s competence and tendency to engage in dominant behavior) and relative dominance (an individual’s social dominance within a social group). Participants were asked to rate the trait dominance of individuals depicted in pictorial stimuli. Results indicated that participants judged individuals expressing anger and disgust higher on trait dominance than individuals expressing happiness. Interestingly, when participants judged which of 2 individuals were more dominant in a confrontation scene, they judged individuals with happy expressions to be more dominant. These perceptions were consistent independent of the overall context. These results suggest that humans perceive social dominance without comparing personality trait dominance, and that criteria for evaluating social and personality trait dominance differ.

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