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Ashley Blanchard, Ashley Schapell, James P. Thomas, Maggie Shiffrar, Paul Boxer; Emotion Perception by Recently Incarcerated Males. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):968. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/12.9.968.
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Rapid and accurate detection of threatening stimuli is essential for survival. Past research supports enhanced visual sensitivity to threatening stimuli including angry faces (e.g., Horstmann, 2009) and angry point-light walkers (Chouchourelou et al., 2006). Experiences in hostile home environments alter visual sensitivity to angry faces in young observers (Pollak & Sinha, 2002). To determine whether hostile experiences during adulthood impact emotion perception, we conducted a visual search and a point-light walker detection task with threatening and non-threatening emotional stimuli. The two subject populations were 40 typical Rutgers University undergraduates and 98 recently incarcerated male parolees (mean age = 38.3 years, mean time incarcerated = 6.41 years). Parolee charges included armed robbery, weapons possession and assault. A standard visual search task was conducted with emotional (angry, happy, neutral) schematic faces. Target and distractor faces were randomly located within a 3 by 4 matrix with set sizes of 3, 6, and 12. Half of the trials contained an oddball face and half did not. Across trials, subjects reported whether or not (2AFC) there was an oddball face. A point-light walker detection task was also conducted in which an emotional walker (angry, fearful, happy, neutral) was presented coherently or scrambled within a point-light mask. Subjects reported whether or not (2AFC) a coherent walker was present in each display. In both studies, observers were never asked to note or assess the emotional content of the stimuli. In the visual search task, parolees detected happy oddball faces faster than angry or neutral oddball faces while typical observers showed the classic anger superiority effect. Similarly, parolees were most accurate in their detection of happy point-light walkers while typical observers were best able to detect angry walkers. These convergent results suggest that adult experiences in traumatic environments can dramatically alter percepts of emotional faces and bodies.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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