September 2019
Volume 19, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2019
Facial Emotions Guide Attention to Task-Irrelevant Color Cues
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Thaatsha Sivananthan
    Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Australia
  • Steven B. Most
    School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Australia
  • Kim M. Curby
    Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Australia
Journal of Vision September 2019, Vol.19, 312b. doi:
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      Thaatsha Sivananthan, Steven B. Most, Kim M. Curby; Facial Emotions Guide Attention to Task-Irrelevant Color Cues. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):312b. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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In what ways does emotion guide attention and affect perception? Do the associations people make between feelings and colors influence what they attend to and remember? We hypothesized that holding emotional faces (angry, happy, or neutral) in working memory (WM) would enhance attention to and memory for novel shapes presented in emotionally congruent, task-irrelevant colors. For example, we predicted better memory for red than green shapes after people were primed by an angry face. In Experiment 1, participants maintained in WM the identity and expression of a face presented for 500ms, during concurrent encoding of a 2500ms array of six shapes (three red & three green). Participants then indicated whether a subsequent achromatic shape had been present in the array, irrespective of its color. Experiment 1 initially seemed to suggest that the emotion of the face held in WM did not guide attention to congruently colored shapes. However, a post-hoc analysis revealed that those who reported mimicking the emotional expressions while attending to the shape array (rather than labeling them) exhibited the predicted WM advantage for shapes presented in the color congruent with the emotion mimicked. Experiment 2 provided confirmatory evidence: participants were randomly instructed to either mimic or label emotional face primes and, consistent with Experiment 1, mimicking (but not labeling) facial expressions resulted in a memory advantage for novel shapes in the emotion-congruent colors. These findings highlight how emotional associations can shape our attention and perception of the world around us.


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