Finding the face in a crowd: Relationships between distractor redundancy, target emotion, and target gender

A Öhman, P Juth, D Lundqvist: Finding the face in a crowd: Relationships between distractor redundancy, target emotion, and target gender. In: Cognition & Emotion, 24 (7), pp. 1216–1228, 2010, ISSN: 0269-9931.

Abstract

The authors developed and tested a novel theory to reconcile opposing findings in the literature on visual search for emotional target faces among neutral distractor faces. We predicted and found that the nature of the distractor stimuli was very important with overall better search performance when distractors were redundant (i.e., “familiar” because they were drawn from a small rather than large stimulus set). This effect interacted with target gender and target emotion. Female happy target faces were always more quickly detected than female angry target faces. Similarly, a happy target face advantage was obtained with male target faces when the distractors were non-redundant. However, more rapid detection of angry than happy target faces was observed with male targets and redundant distractors. Thus, our results demonstrate that claims of an anger superiority effect in visual search for faces are empirically valid, but only under circumscribed boundary conditions.