Facial expressions of emotion play a key role in guiding social judgements, including deciding whether or not to approach another person. However, no research has examined how situational context modulates approachability judgements assigned to emotional faces, or the relationship between perceived threat and approachability judgements. Fifty-two participants provided approachability judgements to angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, neutral, and sad faces across three situational contexts: no context, when giving help, and when receiving help. Participants also rated the emotional faces for level of perceived threat and labelled the facial expressions. Results indicated that context modulated approachability judgements to faces depicting negative emotions. Specifically, faces depicting distress-related emotions (i.e., sadness and fear) were considered more approachable in the giving help context than both the receiving help and neutral context. Furthermore, higher ratings of threat were associated with the assessment of angry, happy and neutral faces as less approachable. These findings are the first to demonstrate the significant role that context plays in the evaluation of an individual's approachability and illustrate the important relationship between perceived threat and the evaluation of approachability.
Willis, M. L., Windsor, N. A., Lawson, D. L., & Ridley, N. J. (2015). Situational context and perceived threat modulate approachability judgements to emotional faces. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0131472