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Anne P. Hillstrom, Christopher Hanlon; Gaze direction mediates the effect of an angry expression on attention to faces. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):636. doi: 10.1167/10.7.636.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
An angry expression on someone's face can draw and hold our attention. Research demonstrating this typically uses faces gazing directly at the participant. Other research has shown that gaze direction affects the way emotions are processed, so we looked for an attentional effect of angry expressions with averted gaze. In this study, a serial stream of faces appeared alternating randomly between positions left and right of fixation and participants searched for a target face. All faces either had averted gaze or direct gaze. The target face had either a neutral or an angry expression, as did the face that appeared immediately before the target (the distractor face). We looked for effects of angry expressions drawing attention spatially (when the target was neutral and the distractor was angry, we looked for slower responses when they were at different locations than the same location; when the target was angry and the distractor was neutral, we looked for faster responses when they were at the same location than different locations) and also for engagement effects (focusing on trials where target and distractor were at the same location, we looked for slower responses when either the target or distractor were angry compared to neutral). No attention-drawing effects were seen. There was an engagement effect of anger and it was mediated by gaze: (1) Angry targets were responded to more slowly than neutral targets. (2) When gaze was averted, responses were slower when the distractor was angry than when the distractor was neutral. (3) But when gaze was direct, the distractor's expression had no impact. Thus, regardless of gaze, engagement is high when the target is angry. If an angry non-target face is encountered during search, that face is more disruptive if all faces are looking away than if looking directly at the observer.
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