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Cory Gerritsen, Alexandra Frischen, Daniel Smilek, Adam Blake, John Eastwood; Visual search for emotional faces is not blind to emotion. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):1068. doi: 10.1167/7.9.1068.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
A series of visual search tasks revealed more efficient search for threatening compared to peaceful faces when the target faces were embedded in neutral face distractors. A search advantage for threatening faces was observed in an initial experiment and replicated in a follow up experiment but not observed in a third experiment. Meta-analytic methods were employed to evaluate data from across the three experiments, confirming the presence of a small but significant advantage in search for threatening faces among neutral faces. Importantly, the design of the current experiments unequivocally ruled out interpretations based on the physical properties that defined target emotion. This was accomplished by using identical sets of stimuli to represent threatening and peaceful target faces. Different emotional meanings were conditioned to these target faces among different groups of observers. This way, the physical differences could be collapsed during data analysis, ensuring that observed differences in efficiency are solely the result of differences in emotional meaning between target faces. The results support the hypothesis that the visual system is capable of determining a face's emotional valence before it becomes the focus of attention and that emotional valence is used by the visual system to determine subsequent allocation of attention. However, in the present context, emotional valence only accounted for a small amount of variance in search efficiency.
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