Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Lebenswissen­schaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Psychologie

Embodiment effect of relative height on face perception

This project investigates whether there is an embodiment effect of relative height on the dominance perception of facial stimuli. Does the physical position of an observer relatively to the observed (above vs below) translate into differences in perceives psychological dominance? 
The dominance-submissiveness dimension is a fundamental organizer of human relations (Burgoon & Hoobler, 2002; Hall & Friedman, 1999). The human face is a fundamental communication tool between humans. Thus, a better comprehension of how humans convey dominance/submissiveness signals with their face is critical in order to understand the process underlying human relations. There is preliminary evidence that the perception of dominance/submissiveness in social interaction is basically embodied by relative height. As height is highly correlated with strength, this makes sense from an evolutionary and/or a developmental point of view. It is adaptive to act submissively (or at least not to show off) towards someone taller than you because you have a lesser chance to be attacked and can even gain protection. Conversely, it is adaptive to act dominant (or in control) towards someone shorter than you because you can exploit their resources and potentially protect them to maximize your gains. As the face is a crucial communication tool in humans, a cognitive system that enhances the submissiveness perception of the face of someone smaller than you or that enhances the dominance perception of the face of someone taller is more likely to trigger action tendencies that help to pass one’s genes to the next generation. To test this idea I am conducting experiments that investigate whether neutral or ambiguous face stimuli presented above or below participants’ eye level are perceived respectively as more dominant/aggressive or submissive/friendly.