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21-01-2016 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2017

Psychological Research 2/2017

Measuring the emotion-specificity of rapid stimulus-driven attraction of attention to fearful faces: evidence from emotion categorization and a comparison with disgusted faces

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2017
Shah Khalid, Gernot Horstmann, Thomas Ditye, Ulrich Ansorge


In the current study, we tested whether a fear advantage—rapid attraction of attention to fearful faces that is more stimulus-driven than to neutral faces—is emotion specific. We used a cueing task with face cues preceding targets. Cues were non-predictive of the target locations. In two experiments, we found enhanced cueing of saccades towards the targets with fearful face cues than with neutral face cues: Saccades towards targets were more efficient with cues and targets at the same position (under valid conditions) than at opposite positions (under invalid conditions), and this cueing effect was stronger with fearful than with neutral face cues. In addition, this cueing effect difference between fearful and neutral faces was absent with inverted faces as cues, indicating that the fear advantage is face-specific. We also show that emotion categorization of the face cues mirrored these effects: Participants were better at categorizing face cues as fearful or neutral with upright than with inverted faces (Experiment 1). Finally, in alternative blocks including disgusted faces instead of fearful faces, we found more similar cueing effects with disgusted faces and neutral faces, and with upright and inverted faces (Experiment 2). Jointly, these results demonstrate that the fear advantage is emotion-specific. Results are discussed in light of evolutionary explanations of the fear advantage.

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