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Jeffrey Nelson, Steven Franconeri, Joan Chiao; Looking for emotion in facial expressions: fixation patterns are emotion-specific. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):995. doi: 10.1167/7.9.995.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
We have a remarkable ability to determine the emotional states of others simply by looking at their face. But which regions of the face contain this rich information, and do we implicitly know where to look to find it? In this study, we show that fixation patterns on faces differ depending on the kind of emotion an observer is told to detect in the face.
We recorded the eye movements of subjects as they performed an emotion judgment task on emotionally neutral or emotionally expressive (angry, happy, sad, frightened, disgusted, ashamed) faces. Analysis of the duration and facial regions of eye fixations showed that fixations on the eye regions were prevalent when recognizing fear, shame, and disgust, but less so when recognizing anger or joy. The proportion of fixations on the upper nose of sad faces was significantly higher than on the same region of faces expressing other emotions, suggesting that the upper nose is a source of information for recognizing sadness. Interestingly, the proportion of fixations on the upper nose region was greater whenever subjects were specifically looking for sadness, even when a neutral face was presented. This prevalence of upper nose fixations was absent when subjects viewed the same neutral stimuli while looking for other emotions. Similar effects were observed for other emotions: a prominence of fixations on the right eye of faces expressing disgust, fear, and shame, was also seen when neutral faces were presented during those blocks.
People appear to have pre-determined visual strategies for extracting the emotional content of a face. Despite the overwhelming richness of information conveyed by a face, we have implicit knowledge of where to look to rapidly gain access to the information needed to recognize emotion.
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