Visual search of emotional faces: The role of affective content and featural distinctiveness

  • Calvo M
  • Marrero H
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We investigated the source of the visual search advantage of some emotional facial expressions. An emotional face target (happy, surprised, disgusted, fearful, angry, or sad) was presented in an array of neutral faces. A faster detection was found for happy targets, with angry and, especially, sad targets being detected more poorly. Physical image properties (e.g., luminance) were ruled out as a potential source of these differences in visual search. In contrast, the search advantage is partly due to the facilitated processing of affective content, as shown by an emotion identification task. Happy expressions were identified faster than the other expressions and were less likely to be confounded with neutral faces, whereas misjudgements occurred more often for angry and sad expressions. Nevertheless, the distinctiveness of some local features (e.g., teeth) that are consistently associated with emotional expressions plays the strongest role in the search advantage pattern. When the contribution of these features to visual search was factored out statistically, the advantage disappeared. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)

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