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Patterns of brain asymmetry in the perception of positive and negative facial expressions

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The divided visual field technique was used to investigate the pattern of brain asymmetry in the perception of positive/approach and negative/withdrawal facial expressions. A total of 80 undergraduate students (65 female, 15 male) were distributed in five experimental groups in order to investigate separately the perception of expressions of happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, and the neutral face. In each trial a target and a distractor expression were presented simultaneously in a computer screen for 150 ms and participants had to determine the side (left or right) on which the target expression was presented. Results indicated that expressions of happiness and fear were identified faster when presented in the left visual field, suggesting an advantage of the right hemisphere in the perception of these expressions. Fewer judgement errors and faster reaction times were also observed for the matching condition in which emotional faces were presented in the left visual field and neutral faces in the right visual field. Other results indicated that positive expressions (happiness and surprise) were perceived faster and more accurately than negative ones (sadness and fear). Main results tend to support the right hemisphere hypothesis, which predicts a better performance of the right hemisphere to perceive emotions, as opposed to the approach-withdrawal hypothesis.
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Keywords: Approach-withdrawal hypothesis; Emotion; Face; Facial expressions; Hemispheric asymmetry; Laterality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Universidade Federal da Paraiba, Brazil 2: Universidad de Barcelona, Spain 3: Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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