Remembering Who Was Where: A Happy Expression Advantage for Face Identity-Location Binding in Working Memory

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It is well established that visual working memory (WM) for face identity is enhanced when faces display threatening versus nonthreatening expressions. During social interaction, it is also important to bind person identity with location information in WM to remember who was where, but we lack a clear understanding of how emotional expression influences this. Here, we conducted two touchscreen experiments to investigate how angry versus happy expressions displayed at encoding influenced the precision with which participants relocated a single neutral test face to its original position. Maintenance interval was manipulated (Experiment 2; 1 s, 3 s, 6 s) to assess durability of binding. In both experiments, relocation accuracy was enhanced when faces were happy versus angry, and this happy benefit endured from 1-s to 6-s maintenance interval. Eye movement measures during encoding showed no convincing effects of oculomotor behavior that could readily explain the happy benefit. However, accuracy in general was improved, and the happy benefit was strongest for the last, most recent face fixated at encoding. Improved, durable binding of who was where in the presence of a happy expression may reflect the importance of prosocial navigation.

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