Angry faces are tracked more easily than neutral faces during multiple identity tracking

Cognition and Emotion 32 (3):464-479 (2017)
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Abstract

We investigated whether and how emotional facial expressions affect sustained attention in face tracking. In a multiple-identity and object tracking paradigm, participants tracked multiple target faces that continuously moved around together with several distractor faces, and subsequently reported where each target face had moved to. The emotional expression of the target and distractor faces was manipulated. Tracking performance was better when the target faces were angry rather than neutral, whereas angry distractor faces did not affect tracking. The effect persisted when the angry faces were presented upside-down and when surface features of the faces were irrelevant to the ongoing task. There was only suggestive and weak evidence for a facilitatory effect of happy targets and a distraction effect of happy distractors in comparison to neutral faces. The results show that angry expressions on the target faces can facilitate sustained attention on the targets via increased vigilance, yet this effect likely depends on both emotional information and visual features of the angry faces.

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