The face in the crowd effect unconfounded

Happy faces, not angry faces, are more efficiently detected in single- and multiple-target visual search tasks

David Becker, Uriah S. Anderson, Chad R. Mortensen, Samantha L. Neufeld, Rebecca Neel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

115 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Is it easier to detect angry or happy facial expressions in crowds of faces? The present studies used several variations of the visual search task to assess whether people selectively attend to expressive faces. Contrary to widely cited studies (e.g., Öhman, Lundqvist, & Esteves, 2001) that suggest angry faces "pop out" of crowds, our review of the literature found inconsistent evidence for the effect and suggested that low-level visual confounds could not be ruled out as the driving force behind the anger superiority effect. We then conducted 7 experiments, carefully designed to eliminate many of the confounding variables present in past demonstrations. These experiments showed no evidence that angry faces popped out of crowds or even that they were efficiently detected. These experiments instead revealed a search asymmetry favoring happy faces. Moreover, in contrast to most previous studies, the happiness superiority effect was shown to be robust even when obvious perceptual confounds-like the contrast of white exposed teeth that are typically displayed in smiling faces-were eliminated in the happy targets. Rather than attribute this effect to the existence of innate happiness detectors, we speculate that the human expression of happiness has evolved to be more visually discriminable because its communicative intent is less ambiguous than other facial expressions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-659
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume140
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2011

Fingerprint

Happiness
Facial Expression
Smiling
Confounding Factors (Epidemiology)
Anger
Crowds
Visual Search
Tooth
Experiment
Superiority

Keywords

  • Anger
  • Attention
  • Ecological psychology
  • Emotional expressions
  • Face perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Cite this

The face in the crowd effect unconfounded : Happy faces, not angry faces, are more efficiently detected in single- and multiple-target visual search tasks. / Becker, David; Anderson, Uriah S.; Mortensen, Chad R.; Neufeld, Samantha L.; Neel, Rebecca.

In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 140, No. 4, 11.2011, p. 637-659.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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