Affective Signals of Threat Increase Perceived Proximity

Shana Cole, Emily Balcetis, David Dunning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Do stimuli appear to be closer when they are more threatening? We tested people's perceptions of distance to stimuli that they felt were threatening relative to perceptions of stimuli they felt were disgusting or neutral. Two studies demonstrated that stimuli that emitted affective signals of threat (e.g., an aggressive male student) were seen as physically closer than stimuli that emitted affective signals of disgust (e.g., a repulsive male student) or no affective signal. Even after controlling for the direct effects of physiological arousal, object familiarity, and intensity of the negative emotional reaction, we found that threatening stimuli appeared to be physically closer than did disgusting ones (Study 2). These findings highlight the links among biased perception, action regulation, and successful navigation of the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-40
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • action
  • affect
  • distance perception
  • emotion
  • motivation
  • perception
  • regulation
  • social cognition
  • threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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