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Emotional expressions are important cues that capture our attention automatically. Although a wide range of work has explored the role and influence of emotions on cognition and behavior, little is known about the way that emotions influence motor actions. Moreover, considering how critical detecting emotional facial expressions in the environment can be, it is important to understand their impact even when they are not directly relevant to the task being performed. Our novel approach was to explore this issue from the attention-and-action perspective, using a task-irrelevant distractor paradigm in which participants are asked to reach for a target while a nontarget stimulus is also presented. We tested whether the movement trajectory would be influenced by irrelevant stimuli—faces with or without emotional expressions. The results showed that reaching paths veered toward faces with emotional expressions, in particular happiness, but not toward neutral expressions. This reinforces the view of emotions as attention-capturing stimuli that are, however, also potential sources of distraction for motor actions.

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Journal Article

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