Article | Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Visual Attention to Powerful Postures: People Avert Their Gaze from Nonverbal Dominance Displays

by Elise Holland, Elizabeth Baily Wolf, Christine Looser and Amy Cuddy

Abstract

This paper investigates whether humans avert their gaze from individuals engaging in nonverbal displays of dominance. Although past studies demonstrate that both humans and nonhuman primates direct more visual attention to high-status others than low-status others, nonhuman primates avert their gaze when high-status conspecifics engage in nonverbal dominance displays (e.g., chest pounding). In two experiments, participants were eye-tracked while viewing photographs of men and women adopting either dominant, high-power (i.e., expansive and open) or submissive, low-power (i.e., contractive and closed) nonverbal postures. Results demonstrated that humans, like primates, avert their gaze from the faces and upper bodies of individuals displaying dominance compared to those displaying submissiveness. Not only did participants look less often at the faces and upper bodies of dominance-displaying individuals, they also fixated on these regions for shorter durations. Our findings ultimately suggest that nonverbal dominance displays influence humans’ visual attention in ways that are likely to shape how social interactions unfold.

Keywords: Nonverbal Behavior; eye-tracking; power and influence; dominance; Nonverbal Communication; Interpersonal Communication; Power and Influence;

Citation:

Holland, Elise, Elizabeth Baily Wolf, Christine Looser, and Amy Cuddy. "Visual Attention to Powerful Postures: People Avert Their Gaze from Nonverbal Dominance Displays." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 68 (January 2017): 60–67.