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Chris Kelland Friesen, Erin Kauffman, Kimberly Halvorson, Reiko Graham; Context matters: The influence of facial emotional expression on gaze-triggered orienting when gazed-at targets have emotional meaning. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):696. doi: 10.1167/7.9.696.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Several studies investigating whether the emotional expression of a gazing face might enhance spatial orienting to a gazed-at location have produced inconclusive or null results. Here, in two experiments, we investigated whether affective context might modulate the interaction between emotion processing and gaze-triggered orienting. A second consideration was that previous studies might not have given participants long enough to integrate gaze and expression information before the target appeared. In both experiments, each trial began with a face with a neutral expression, gazing straight ahead. The eyes of the face looked nonpredictively to the left or right, and then the face's expression changed to happy or fearful. The observer's task was to identify a peripheral target presented 225 or 525 ms after the gaze cue onset. In E1 the target was either threatening (a growling dog) or nonthreatening (a smiling baby), and in E2 the targets were neutral (the letters T and L). The gaze cuing effect (faster responses to gazed-at targets than to nongazed-at targets) was observed in both experiments. The critical finding in E1 with emotionally-valenced targets was that the gaze cuing effect was larger when the face was fearful compared to happy — but only when observers were given sufficient time to process the face before target onset. In E2 with neutral targets, there were separate gaze and expression effects, but there were no significant effects involving gaze and expression. The results of E1 demonstrate that emotional expression can affect the magnitude of gaze-triggered orienting, but that the integration of gaze and expression information is time consuming. The results of E2 suggest, however, that without a meaningful context, additional processing time is not sufficient. We discuss how top-down factors might interact with bottom-up visual information to produce enhanced orienting in response to socially relevant stimuli.
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