Serial dependence promotes the stability of perceived emotional expression depending on face similarity

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2018 Aug;80(6):1461-1473. doi: 10.3758/s13414-018-1533-8.


Individuals can quickly and effortlessly recognize facial expressions, which is critical for social perception and emotion regulation. This sensitivity to even slight facial changes could result in unstable percepts of an individual's expression over time. The visual system must therefore balance accuracy with maintaining perceptual stability. However, previous research has focused on our sensitivity to changing expressions, and the mechanism behind expression stability remains an open question. Recent results demonstrate that perception of facial identity is systematically biased toward recently seen visual input. This positive perceptual pull, or serial dependence, may help stabilize perceived expression. To test this, observers judged random facial expression morphs ranging from happy to sad to angry. We found a pull in perceived expression toward previously seen expressions, but only when the 1-back and current face had similar identities. Our results are consistent with the existence of the continuity field for expression, a specialized mechanism that promotes the stability of emotion perception, which could help facilitate social interactions and emotion regulation.

Keywords: Face perception; Perceptual stability; Serial dependence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anger / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Random Allocation
  • Social Perception*
  • Time Factors