Processing emotional category congruency between emotional facial expressions and emotional words.

Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science (MACCS), Macquarie University, NSW, 2109 Australia.
Cognition and Emotion (Impact Factor: 2.52). 02/2011; 25(2):369-79. DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2010.488945
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Facial expressions are critical for effective social communication, and as such may be processed by the visual system even when it might be advantageous to ignore them. Previous research has shown that categorising emotional words was impaired when faces of a conflicting valence were simultaneously presented. In the present study, we examined whether emotional word categorisation would also be impaired when faces of the same (negative) valence but different emotional category (either angry, sad or fearful) were simultaneously presented. Behavioural results provided evidence for involuntary processing of basic emotional facial expression category, with slower word categorisation when the face and word categories were incongruent (e.g., angry word and sad face) than congruent (e.g., angry word and angry face). Event-related potentials (ERPs) time-locked to the presentation of the word-face pairs also revealed that emotional category congruency effects were evident from approximately 170 ms after stimulus onset.

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    ABSTRACT: Facial expressions play an important role in successful social interactions, with previous research suggesting that facial expressions may be processed involuntarily. In the current study, we investigate whether involuntary processing of facial expressions would also occur when facial expression distractors are simultaneously presented in the same spatial location as facial expression targets. Targets and distractors from another stimulus class (lions) were also used. Results indicated that angry facial expression distractors interfered more than neutral face distractors with the ability to respond to both face and lion targets. These findings suggest that information from angry facial expressions can be extracted rapidly from a very brief presentation (50 ms), providing compelling evidence that angry facial expressions are processed involuntarily.
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