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Maggie Shiffrar; The perception of bodily threats. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):13. doi: 10.1167/11.11.13.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Numerous results indicate that observers are particularly sensitive to angry and fearful faces. Such heightened sensitivity supports the hypothesis that observers are best able to detect potentially harmful information. Because bodily cues to threat can be seen from farther away, the goal of our work is to determine whether observers demonstrate enhanced visual sensitivity to body signaling different types of threat. One set of studies consisted of a modified “face in a crowd” paradigm in which observers viewed arrays of body postures depicting various emotional states. All emotional expressions were applied to the same generic male body with a neutral facial expression. Body postures were normed for perceived emotional content. Participants sequentially viewed circular arrays of 6 emotional body postures and reported with a key press whether or not each array contained a different or oddball body posture. Consistent with the threat advantage hypothesis, observers demonstrated speeded detection of threatening body postures. Another series of studies investigated a more subtle type of threat detection. Previous work has shown that women preferentially attend to thin bodies. We investigated whether this effect is specific to women looking at other women's bodies. Using a dot probe paradigm, the strongest attentional bias was found with women looking at women's bodies. Bias magnitude correlated positively with each observer's level of dissatisfaction with her own body. To the extent that women compare their own bodies with observed bodies, this effect also conforms to the threat advantage hypothesis. This research was supported by NSF grant EXP-SA 0730985 and the Simons Foundation (grant 94915).
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