The face inhibition effect: Social contrast or motor competition?

Steven P. Tipper, Patric Bach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Merely viewing the faces of famous athletes affects the observers' motor system, suggesting that actionbased information is a core feature of person representations, even when no specific action is visible (Bach & Tipper, 2006). Unexpectedly, these person-based motor priming effects were inhibitory. Foot responses were slower when identifying footballers, and hand responses for tennis players. Here, we demonstrate that these inhibitory effects are only evoked when action is implicitly associated with the athletes; when the athletes are seen performing their skilled actions the effect reverses towards facilitation. The contrast between inhibition evoked by implicit action priming and facilitation evoked by the explicit presentation of an action supports the notion of inhibitory control in the motor system. We hypothesise that when no specific action is perceived, a range of actions are activated triggering lateral inhibition, whereas when a specific action is viewed, there is no competition and excitation facilitates similar responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-51
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2011


  • Embodied cognition
  • Inhibition
  • Motor priming
  • Person memory
  • Social perception


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