Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Observer and Target Sex Differences in the Change Detection of Facial Expressions: A Change Blindness Study

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Observer and Target Sex Differences in the Change Detection of Facial Expressions: A Change Blindness Study

Article excerpt


Since the human face has a great social/biological importance, the cognitive system should have a special capacity to prioritize facial expressions which signal potential threat (e.g., Fox et al., 2000; Hansen & Hansen, 1988). Regarding this superiority for threatening faces, we hypothesized that changes from neutral to angry faces will be detected faster than other emotional changes. Additionally we investigated the change detection performance for fearful/happy face expressions since some contradictory findings have been reported. Observer sex differences were also investigated. Real photographs were utilized to enhance ecological validity and perception of facial expressions was examined by using a flicker paradigm. The findings revealed that angry male faces attract more attention compared to the other male face expressions. However there was no angry face advantage for female faces: changes from neutral to angry/fearful/happy faces in female photographs are equally processed in attentional system.

KEYWORDS: change detection, emotional expressions, sex differences


It is well known that human beings pay special attention to objects that are important to their well being. When attention is allocated to highly relevant stimuli or events, this will lead to their enhanced processing and trigger synchronized changes in the autonomic, motor, and motivational system to prepare the organism for adaptive responses (e.g., Brosch, Sander, & Scherer, 2007). Findings indicate faster detection times for biologically significant stimuli, such as faces (Ro, Russel, & Lavie, 2001; Theeuwes & Van der Stigchel, 2006), newborn baby faces (Brosch et al. 2007), and snakes and spiders (Öhman, Flykt, & Esteves, 2001). These studies support the notion of preferential processing for high biological significance in the brain.

A human face is a very important visual pattern both socially and biologically. By looking at a face, we can understand the sex, age, mood, direction of gaze, and emotion of the person. The face is also a very important means of speechless communication. There are robust findings that a face captures attention more than any other object in a scene (e.g., Ro et al., 2001). Moreover, early detection of emotional facial expression is also crucial. Early detection of a threatening face is adaptive in the sense that it might reduce the likelihood of a confrontation which may possibly end in fatal injury. As summarized below, many studies investigated the effect of different emotional expressions on visual attention.

Hansen and Hansen (1988) developed an emotional variant of the visual search task called "face-in-the-crowd task". In this task, individuals were asked to determine whether displays of four or nine faces were the same or whether one face was different than the rest. The findings indicated that individuals located an angry face in a happy crowd faster than they found a happy face in an angry crowd. Moreover, a happy face among eight angry faces took longer to find compared to a happy face among three angry, whereas an angry face was detected just as rapidly among three happy faces as among eight happy faces. Because the time needed to detect an angry face in a happy crowd was not affected by the number of distracters, the authors concluded that facial displays of threat (angry faces) were detected automatically. Fox et al. (2000) replicated the experiments with improved methodology and stimuli and found out time efficient, but not automatic, detection of angry over happy faces. However, this phenomenon has become controversial in recent years for methodological problems regarding distracters (Fox et al., 2000), failures of replication (e.g., Nothdurft, 1993; White, 1995), motor preparation proposed as an alternative explanation for reaction time speeding to emotional faces (Flykt, 2006).

Two typical methods are used to determine whether faces capture attention: the modification of the classic spatial cueing paradigm and emotional Stroop task. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.