Research Topic

The Interpersonal Effects of Emotions: The Influence of Facial Expressions on Social Interactions

About this Research Topic

Facial expressions are one of the most important forms of non-verbal communication used to convey information about one’s emotional state. The ability to detect and react to emotional facial expressions emerges very early, already during the first year of life. Moreover, the detection and the recognition of emotional expressions occur even in the absence of awareness, suggesting that the human brain is hardwired for facial expression recognition.

Expressing emotions through facial expressions can not only serve the purpose of communicating feelings, but it can also represent a powerful way to affect other individuals’ behaviors. On the one hand, facial expressions can be used by the expresser as ‘social tools’ to manipulate (e.g., change or maintain) the course of social interaction, communicating intentions, or action requests. On the other hand, facial expressions can be used by the observer to gather information about the social context and the potential causes and consequences of the emotion displayed. This may, in turn, affect the perceiver’s judgment of the social situation and their subsequent behavior and affective state.

One such example is facial expressions signaling threat (e.g., angry and fearful expressions). Angry expressions with gaze directed at the observer can be interpreted as a direct source of danger. Similarly, fearful faces could signal that danger is present in the surrounding environment, and as such be relevant to the expresser but not to the observer. Despite its clear interpersonal and intrapersonal importance, the role of the different facial expressions in communicating a threat, or in providing information about whether the threat affects the individual is not fully explored.

Besides few exceptions, most of the literature on facial expressions focuses on the ability to identify the emotion displayed by the face, while the social functions and interpersonal consequences of facial expressions are often neglected. Only a few studies focused on whether and how the implicit or explicit processing of facial expressions modulates the perceiver’s behaviors. Furthermore, the social function of facial expressions could depend upon the specific social interaction, the type of relationship between the interactants, their personality, and their mood. Nevertheless, previous studies have mostly overlooked the role of these aspects in modulating the behavioral response to facial expressions in social interactions.

We are interested in assessing whether and how the distortion or misinterpretation of facial expressions, often reported in several forms of psychopathology (e.g., social anxiety, autism, major depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, alcoholism), can result in inappropriate social responses (e.g., avoidance behavior, violent reactions) in social interactions.

Further studies could examine potential cultural differences in the way implicit and explicit processing of facial expressions can affect individuals’ judgments of social situations.

Accordingly, this Research Topic aims to integrate different paradigms and methodological approaches to advance our understanding of the social functions and interpersonal consequences of facial expressions at the behavioral and/or neural level. To this aim, original research articles, reviews, and case studies from diverse fields will be welcome including, but not limited to, developmental, social, clinical, or cognitive psychology, biology, or cognitive neuroscience.


Keywords: Facial expressions, emotions, social interactions, threat, cognitive bias


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Facial expressions are one of the most important forms of non-verbal communication used to convey information about one’s emotional state. The ability to detect and react to emotional facial expressions emerges very early, already during the first year of life. Moreover, the detection and the recognition of emotional expressions occur even in the absence of awareness, suggesting that the human brain is hardwired for facial expression recognition.

Expressing emotions through facial expressions can not only serve the purpose of communicating feelings, but it can also represent a powerful way to affect other individuals’ behaviors. On the one hand, facial expressions can be used by the expresser as ‘social tools’ to manipulate (e.g., change or maintain) the course of social interaction, communicating intentions, or action requests. On the other hand, facial expressions can be used by the observer to gather information about the social context and the potential causes and consequences of the emotion displayed. This may, in turn, affect the perceiver’s judgment of the social situation and their subsequent behavior and affective state.

One such example is facial expressions signaling threat (e.g., angry and fearful expressions). Angry expressions with gaze directed at the observer can be interpreted as a direct source of danger. Similarly, fearful faces could signal that danger is present in the surrounding environment, and as such be relevant to the expresser but not to the observer. Despite its clear interpersonal and intrapersonal importance, the role of the different facial expressions in communicating a threat, or in providing information about whether the threat affects the individual is not fully explored.

Besides few exceptions, most of the literature on facial expressions focuses on the ability to identify the emotion displayed by the face, while the social functions and interpersonal consequences of facial expressions are often neglected. Only a few studies focused on whether and how the implicit or explicit processing of facial expressions modulates the perceiver’s behaviors. Furthermore, the social function of facial expressions could depend upon the specific social interaction, the type of relationship between the interactants, their personality, and their mood. Nevertheless, previous studies have mostly overlooked the role of these aspects in modulating the behavioral response to facial expressions in social interactions.

We are interested in assessing whether and how the distortion or misinterpretation of facial expressions, often reported in several forms of psychopathology (e.g., social anxiety, autism, major depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, alcoholism), can result in inappropriate social responses (e.g., avoidance behavior, violent reactions) in social interactions.

Further studies could examine potential cultural differences in the way implicit and explicit processing of facial expressions can affect individuals’ judgments of social situations.

Accordingly, this Research Topic aims to integrate different paradigms and methodological approaches to advance our understanding of the social functions and interpersonal consequences of facial expressions at the behavioral and/or neural level. To this aim, original research articles, reviews, and case studies from diverse fields will be welcome including, but not limited to, developmental, social, clinical, or cognitive psychology, biology, or cognitive neuroscience.


Keywords: Facial expressions, emotions, social interactions, threat, cognitive bias


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
31 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2021 Abstract
31 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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