Beyond Facial Expression: Spatial Distance as a Factor in the Communication of Discrete Emotions

  • Ross Buck
  • Mike Miller


This chapter examines the role of nonverbal behavior other than facial expressions in displaying and communicating emotion. Our thesis is that a wider variety of displays than are often considered are responsible for communicating a broad assortment of specific emotions, and that one of the primary variables important in this is the spatial distance in the ecology of an organism at which a given emotion is typically displayed. The emotions most associated with facial expressions — the classic primary affects including at least happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust — best function as displays at moderate personal distances. At intimate distances, a variety of emotions including love, lust, gratitude, anger, and sympathy can be reliably communicated through displays involving pheromones and touch. At longer social and public distances, social and moral emotions including pride/ arrogance/triumph, guilt/shame/humiliation, envy/jealousy/resentment, and pity/scorn/contempt are communicated through larger and more substantial body postures and gestures associated with ancient dominance and submission displays. Finally, the GREAT emotions (gratitude, respect, elevation, appreciation, and trust) are signaled at a dyadic level via mutually contingent responsiveness and interpersonal synchrony.


Major Histocompatibility Complex Facial Expression Spider Monkey Moral Emotion Social Emotion 
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© Ross Buck and Mike Miller 2015

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  • Ross Buck
  • Mike Miller

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