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Mark W. Becker, Brian Detweiler-Bedell, Ian P. Rasmussen, Laura Koch; Negatively valanced facial expressions elicit panicked scanning. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):1058. doi: 10.1167/6.6.1058.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
In three experiments we tracked eye movements to investigate whether the facial expression of negative emotion attracts visual attention. In all experiments, participants passively viewed scenes comprised of 4 upright or 4 inverted Ekman faces. In the first experiment, one face depicted fear or happiness while the other three faces depicted the opposite emotion. In experiment 2, there was one target face (fear, happy) among 3 neutral faces. Experiment 3 was similar to experiment 2 except that it included a condition in which an angry face was sounded by neutral faces. In all three experiments, negatively valanced faces were fixated earlier, but not because they drew attention to their location (i.e. the ordinal number of the first fixation on the fear face was the same as on the happy face). Instead, it seems that the presence of an upright negatively valanced face precipitates “panicked scanning” which results in shorter fixation durations which reduces the time taken to initially fixate fear faces. However, the scan path to a negatively valanced face is no more direct than to a control face. These results suggest that the facial expression of emotion is analyzed prior to the initial fixation on the face and when the valance of the a face is negative it speeds the overall search process, without providing the spatial coordinates of the negative face to the saccade guidance system.
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