Gaze direction and facial expressions exert combined but different effects on attentional resources

Cogn Emot. 2012;26(6):1134-42. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2011.638907. Epub 2012 Mar 9.


Gaze direction and facial expressions are critical components of face processing and have been shown to influence attention deployment. We investigated whether gaze direction (direct vs. averted) combined with a neutral or angry expression modulates the deployment of attentional resources over time. In a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm participants had to decide the gender of a neutral or an angry target face with direct or averted gaze (T1) and then to judge the orientation of a target picture of a landscape (T2), following the face at different time intervals. Results showed no attentional blink effect (i.e., no deterioration in T2 accuracy) when T1 was an angry face with direct gaze, whereas it was present for angry faces with averted gaze or neutral faces with either averted or direct gaze. These findings are consistent with appraisal theories and are discussed against the background of automatic processing of threat stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attentional Blink / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology