By comparing how quickly human facial expressions of different types are detected in a crowd of neutral faces, researchers have demonstrated that male angry faces are a priority for visual processing -- particularly for male observers. The findings are reported by Mark Williams of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jason Mattingley of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and appear in the June 6th issue of Current Biology.
In evolutionary terms, it makes sense that our attention is attracted by threat in the environment. It has long been hypothesized that facial expressions that signal potential threat, such as anger, may capture attention and therefore "stand out" in a crowd. In fact, there are specific brain regions that are dedicated to processing threatening facial expressions. Given the many differences between males and females, with males being larger and more physically aggressive than females, one might also suspect differences in the way in which threat is detected from individuals of different genders.
In the new work, Williams and Mattingley show that angry male faces are found more rapidly than angry female faces by both men and women. In addition, men find angry faces of both genders faster than women, whereas women find socially relevant expressions (for example, happy or sad) more rapidly. The work suggests that although males are biased toward detecting threatening faces, and females are more attuned to socially relevant expressions, both sexes prioritize the detection of angry male faces; in short, angry men get noticed. The advantage for detecting angry male faces is consistent with the notion that human perceptual processes have been shaped by evolutionary pressures arising from the social environment.
Reference: Mark A. Williams of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts and University of Melbourne in Parkville,Victoria, Australia; Jason B. Mattingley of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Williams et al.: "Correspondence: Do angry men get noticed?" Publishing in Current Biology 16, R402-404, June 6, 2006. www.current-biology.com
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