December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
Occluding the eye-region impacts inferring and sharing a face’s emotional state
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sarah McCrackin
    McGill University
  • Sabrina Provencher
    KU Leuven
  • Ethan Mendell
    KU Leuven
  • Jelena Ristic
    Neuroscience Graduate Program, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  SSHRC, NSERC CREATE, William Dawson
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 3672. doi:
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      Sarah McCrackin, Sabrina Provencher, Ethan Mendell, Jelena Ristic; Occluding the eye-region impacts inferring and sharing a face’s emotional state. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):3672.

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

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Humans often look at eyes when recognizing facial expressions. However, it remains unknown how occlusion of this facial region impacts the processes that build on basic emotion recognition, such as those involved in inferring (i.e., affective theory of mind) and sharing (i.e., affective empathy) emotions. In two experiments, we investigated how occlusion of the eye region impacted affective theory of mind (Exp. 1, n = 114) and affective empathy (Exp. 2, n= 91). In both experiments participants viewed emotional faces that wore opaque glasses, transparent glasses, or no glasses. Contextual sentences described the individuals as experiencing positive, negative, or neutral emotional states. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to rate the valence and intensity of the emotion they believed the protagonist was feeling. In Experiment 2, they were asked to rate how much empathy they felt for the protagonist and the valence of their own emotions. Occlusion of the eyes impacted both the affective theory of mind and affective empathy ratings. Protagonists wearing opaque eyeglasses were rated as feeling less emotional and participants reported feeling less empathy for them. Surprisingly, transparent glasses did not fully reverse this negative effect. Protagonists wearing transparent eyeglasses were also judged to feel less emotional and were less empathized with, but this effect was found for predominantly negative emotions. Together, these data firmly implicate upper face regions in both basic and complex socioemotional processing, such as relating to and empathizing with others.


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