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

Emotion. 2006 May;6(2):193-207. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.6.2.193.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anger*
  • Attention*
  • Face*
  • Facial Asymmetry*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time*
  • Visual Perception