Negative facial expression captures attention and disrupts performance

Percept Psychophys. 2003 Apr;65(3):352-8. doi: 10.3758/bf03194566.


In two experiments, participants counted features of schematic faces with positive, negative, or neutral emotional expressions. In Experiment 1 it was found that counting features took longer when they were embedded in negative as opposed to positive faces. Experiment 2 replicated the results of Experiment 1 and also demonstrated that more time was required to count features of negative relative to neutral faces. However, in both experiments, when the faces were inverted to reduce holistic face perception, no differences between neutral, positive, and negative faces were observed, even though the feature information in the inverted faces was the same as in the upright faces. We suggest that, relative to neutral and positive faces, negative faces are particularly effective at capturing attention to the global face level and thereby make it difficult to count the local features of faces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time