Facial dominance augments perceived proximity: Evidence from a visual illusion. Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Dominance is a major organizing principle of human societies that impacts a wide range of human behaviors, from gaze-following to voting choices. Here, we examined how dominance modulates a fundamental perceptual ability: the perception of proximity. We used the "Fat Face" illusion, a novel paradigm that measures perceived proximity implicitly. The illusion depicts a phenomenon that occurs when two identical faces are aligned vertically (one above the other) and the bottom face consistently appears larger. This illusion suggests that our visual system uses a vertical layout to infer the relative proximity of faces, so that the bottom face appears closer, and is thereby perceived as larger than the top one. We found that the illusion was larger for dominant than for submissive faces (Experiment 1). Moreover, when a dominant face was presented below a submissive one, participants reported a larger illusion than when a dominant face was above a submissive face (Experiments 2a and 2b). These findings suggest that dominant faces are perceived to be closer to observers than submissive faces. Furthermore, we found a stronger illusion for other-race faces as opposed to own-race faces, suggesting that we also misperceive other-race faces as closer than own-race faces. Together, these findings suggest that the visual system is highly sensitive to self-relevant, potentially threatening stimuli (e.g., dominant faces and other-race individuals) in the environment by misperceiving them as closer. In line with the recently proposed threat-signal hypothesis, this mechanism may allow for rapid and adaptive behaviors in our everyday social interactions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).


  • Fang, Wei
  • Galusca, Cristina I
  • Wang, Zhe
  • Sun, Yu-Hao P
  • Pascalis, Olivier
  • Xiao, Naiqi

publication date

  • May 2023