Early detection and avoidance of threatening faces during passive viewing.Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2009 Jul; 62(7):1257-64.QJ
To evaluate whether there is an early attentional bias towards negative stimuli, we tracked participants' eyes while they passively viewed displays composed of four Ekman faces. In Experiment 1 each display consisted of three neutral faces and one face depicting fear or happiness. In half of the trials, all faces were inverted. Although the passive viewing task should have been very sensitive to attentional biases, we found no evidence that overt attention was biased towards fearful faces. Instead, people tended to actively avoid looking at the fearful face. This avoidance was evident very early in scene viewing, suggesting that the threat associated with the faces was evaluated rapidly. Experiment 2 replicated this effect and extended it to angry faces. In sum, our data suggest that negative facial expressions are rapidly analysed and influence visual scanning, but, rather than attract attention, such faces are actively avoided.