First impressions from faces in dynamic approach–avoidance contexts

Iliyana V. Trifonova, Cade McCall, Matthew C. Fysh, Markus Bindemann, A. Mike Burton

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Theoretical understanding of first impressions from faces has been closely associated with the proposal that rapid approach–avoidance decisions are needed during social interactions. Nevertheless, experimental work has rarely examined first impressions of people who are actually moving—instead extrapolating from photographic images. In six experiments, we describe the relationship between social attributions (dominance and trustworthiness) and the motion and apparent intent of a perceived person. We first show strong correspondence between judgments of photos and avatars of the same people (Experiment 1). Avatars were rated as more dominant and trustworthy when walking toward the viewer than when stationary (Experiment 2). Furthermore, avatars approaching the viewer were rated as more dominant than those avoiding (walking past) the viewer, or remaining stationary (Experiment 3). Trustworthiness was increased by movement, but not affected by approaching/avoiding paths. Surprisingly, dominance ratings increased both when avatars were approaching and being approached (Experiments 4–6), independently of agency. However, diverging movement (moving backward) reduced dominance ratings—again independently of agency (Experiment 6). These results demonstrate the close link between dominance judgments and approach and show the updatable nature of first impressions—their formation depended on the immediate dynamic context in a more subtle manner than previously suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-586
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2024


  • approach–avoidance
  • face perception
  • first impressions
  • trait judgments
  • virtual environment

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