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01-03-2014 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2014

Psychological Research 2/2014

Facial expression recognition in peripheral versus central vision: role of the eyes and the mouth

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2014
Manuel G. Calvo, Andrés Fernández-Martín, Lauri Nummenmaa


This study investigated facial expression recognition in peripheral relative to central vision, and the factors accounting for the recognition advantage of some expressions in the visual periphery. Whole faces or only the eyes or the mouth regions were presented for 150 ms, either at fixation or extrafoveally (2.5° or 6°), followed by a backward mask and a probe word. Results indicated that (a) all the basic expressions were recognized above chance level, although performance in peripheral vision was less impaired for happy than for non-happy expressions, (b) the happy face advantage remained when only the mouth region was presented, and (c) the smiling mouth was the most visually salient and most distinctive facial feature of all expressions. This suggests that the saliency and the diagnostic value of the smile account for the advantage in happy face recognition in peripheral vision. Because of saliency, the smiling mouth accrues sensory gain and becomes resistant to visual degradation due to stimulus eccentricity, thus remaining accessible extrafoveally. Because of diagnostic value, the smile provides a distinctive single cue of facial happiness, thus bypassing integration of face parts and reducing susceptibility to breakdown of configural processing in peripheral vision.

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