Detection of emotional faces: salient physical features guide effective visual search.J Exp Psychol Gen. 2008 Aug; 137(3):471-94.JE
In this study, the authors investigated how salient visual features capture attention and facilitate detection of emotional facial expressions. In a visual search task, a target emotional face (happy, disgusted, fearful, angry, sad, or surprised) was presented in an array of neutral faces. Faster detection of happy and, to a lesser extent, surprised and disgusted faces was found both under upright and inverted display conditions. Inversion slowed down the detection of these faces less than that of others (fearful, angry, and sad). Accordingly, the detection advantage involves processing of featural rather than configural information. The facial features responsible for the detection advantage are located in the mouth rather than the eye region. Computationally modeled visual saliency predicted both attentional orienting and detection. Saliency was greatest for the faces (happy) and regions (mouth) that were fixated earlier and detected faster, and there was close correspondence between the onset of the modeled saliency peak and the time at which observers initially fixated the faces. The authors conclude that visual saliency of specific facial features--especially the smiling mouth--is responsible for facilitated initial orienting, which thus shortens detection. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved).