cSCAN Rounds

Seeking out, fixating and attending to features of emotionally expressive faces

At normal interpersonal distances not all features of another’s face can fall within one's fovea simultaneously. Given that different facial features are diagnostic of different emotions, does the ability to identify emotional expressions vary according to the feature fixated or attended, and do saccades from non-diagnostic features preferentially seek diagnostic features? I will describe 2 sets of experiments that address these questions. In the first set of experiments we presented faces for a brief time, insufficient for a saccade, at a spatial position that guaranteed that a given feature – an eye, cheek, the central brow, or mouth – fell at the fovea. We measured emotion discrimination accuracy and reaction time, as well as the latency, frequency and trajectory of reflexive first saccades after face offset. The second set of experiments asked whether attention to specific facial regions is critical for accurate emotion perception, independent of eye movements. We used a modified Posner exogenous spatial-cueing paradigm in healthy participants and individuals with bilateral amygdala lesions, and in healthy participants in an fMRI experiment.