Face to face with emotion: Holistic face processing is modulated by emotional state

Kim M. Curby, Kareem J. Johnson, Alyssa Tyson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Negative emotions are linked with a local, rather than global, visual processing style, which may preferentially facilitate feature-based, relative to holistic, processing mechanisms. Because faces are typically processed holistically, and because social contexts are prime elicitors of emotions, we examined whether negative emotions decrease holistic processing of faces. We induced positive, negative, or neutral emotions via film clips and measured holistic processing before and after the induction: participants made judgements about cued parts of chimeric faces, and holistic processing was indexed by the interference caused by task-irrelevant face parts. Emotional state significantly modulated face-processing style, with the negative emotion induction leading to decreased holistic processing. Furthermore, self-reported change in emotional state correlated with changes in holistic processing. These results contrast with general assumptions that holistic processing of faces is automatic and immune to outside influences, and they illustrate emotion's power to modulate socially relevant aspects of visual perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-102
Number of pages10
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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