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Preattentive face processing: What do visual search experiments with schematic faces tell us?

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In recent research, several experiments have tested a preattentive threat-advantage hypothesis that threatening or negative faces can be discriminated preattentively, by using the visual search paradigm. However, supporting evidence is nonuniform, giving rise to the suspicion that stimulus factors rather than the stimuli's category of facial threat versus friendliness are responsible for sporadic demonstrations of a threat advantage. However, it is also possible that differences in experimental procedure contribute to the heterogeneous results. To test this possibility I selected examples from the past literature and presented them within the same constant experimental setting. I found a consistent advantage for negative face targets among positive face distractors with all stimulus pairs. Search slopes, however, mostly revealed inefficient search, questioning the preattentive discrimination of facial affect.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Bielefeld University, Germany

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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