Look at me, I'm smiling: Visual search for threatening and nonthreatening facial expressions

Williams, MA, Moss, SA, Bradshaw, JL and Mattingley, JB (2005) Look at me, I'm smiling: Visual search for threatening and nonthreatening facial expressions. Visual Cognition, 12 1: 29-50. doi:10.1080/13506280444000193

Author Williams, MA
Moss, SA
Bradshaw, JL
Mattingley, JB
Title Look at me, I'm smiling: Visual search for threatening and nonthreatening facial expressions
Journal name Visual Cognition   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1350-6285
Publication date 2005-01-01
Year available 2005
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1080/13506280444000193
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 12
Issue 1
Start page 29
End page 50
Total pages 22
Place of publication Hove
Publisher Psychology Press
Language eng
Abstract Using a visual search paradigm, this series of experiments determined whether threatening and nonthreatening facial expressions attract attention. In Experiment I, participants were instructed to locate a face with a particular facial expression in an array of four or eight faces. Search time was reduced for a happy target among neutral distractors, compared with a neutral target among happy distractors. In contrast, when the stimuli were inverted, search time was faster when the target was neutral and slower when the target was happy. An increase in the number of distractors increased search times to a greater extent when the target face was neutral and inverted than in the other conditions. Experiment 2 revealed the same pattern of results for sad faces. Experiment 3 used a modified search at-ray to directly compare search times for happy, sad, fearful, and angry facial expressions. The attentional advantage for happy and sad tat-gets shown in Experiments I and 2 was examined further by comparing search times when participants were instructed to search for a particular expression with those obtained when they searched for any emotional expression. Angry and happy targets were located faster than sad or fearful faces, and at least part of this advantage was determined by task instructions rather than being automatic. These findings demonstrate that nonthreatening facial expressions (happy, sad) can capture attention relative to neutral expressions, and that threatening expressions differ in their effect. It is suggested that angry faces indicate potential threat to the observer (e.g., the threat of personal violence) and therefore attract attention, whereas fearful faces indicate threat elsewhere in the environment (e.g., the approach of a violent intruder), and therefore divert attention away from the face and towards the source of the threat.
Keyword Psychology, Experimental
Face Perception
Emotional Faces
Q-Index Code C1
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) - Collection
Queensland Brain Institute Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 111 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 126 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Wed, 17 Oct 2007, 23:28:06 EST