Facing freeze: social threat induces bodily freeze in humans

Karin Roelofs, Muriel A Hagenaars, John Stins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Freezing is a common defensive response in animals threatened by predators. It is characterized by reduced body motion and decreased heart rate (bradycardia). However, despite the relevance of animal defense models in human stress research, studies have not shown whether social threat cues elicit similar freeze-like responses in humans. We investigated body sway and heart rate in 50 female participants while they were standing on a stabilometric force platform and viewing cues that were socially threatening, socially neutral, and socially affiliative (angry, neutral, and happy faces, respectively). Posturographic analyses showed that angry faces (compared with neutral faces and happy faces) induced significant reductions in body sway. In addition, the reduced body sway for angry faces was accompanied by bradycardia and correlated significantly with subjective anxiety. Together, these findings indicate that spontaneous body responses to social threat cues involve freeze-like behavior in humans that mimics animal freeze responses. These findings open avenues for studying human freeze responses in relation to various sociobiological markers and social-affective disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1575-81
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Anger
  • Arousal
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Postural Balance
  • Social Perception
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


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