Search Asymmetries With Real Faces: Testing the Anger-Superiority Effect

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The anger-superiority hypothesis states that angry faces are detected more efficiently than friendly faces. Previously research used schematized stimuli, which minimizes perceptual confounds, but violates ecological validity. The authors argue that a confounding of appearance and meaning is unavoidable and even unproblematic if real faces are presented. Four experiments tested carefully controlled photos in a search-asymmetry design. Experiments 1 and 2 revealed more efficient detection of an angry face among happy faces than vice versa. Experiment 3 indicated that the advantage was due to the mouth, but not to the eyes, and Experiment 4, using upright and inverted thatcherized faces, suggests a perceptual basis. The results are in line with a sensory-bias hypothesis that facial expressions evolved to exploit extant capabilities of the visual system.

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