Visual search for faces with emotional expressions

Alexandra Frischen, John D. Eastwood, Daniel Smilek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

190 Citations (Scopus)


The goal of this review is to critically examine contradictory findings in the study of visual search for emotionally expressive faces. Several key issues are addressed: Can emotional faces be processed preattentively and guide attention? What properties of these faces influence search efficiency? Is search moderated by the emotional state of the observer? The authors argue that the evidence is consistent with claims that (a) preattentive search processes are sensitive to and influenced by facial expressions of emotion, (b) attention guidance is influenced by a dynamic interplay of emotional and perceptual factors, and (c) visual search for emotional faces is influenced by the emotional state of the observer to some extent. The authors also argue that the way in which contextual factors interact to determine search performance needs to be explored further to draw sound conclusions about the precise influence of emotional expressions on search efficiency. Methodological considerations (e.g., set size, distractor background, task set) and ecological limitations of the visual search task are discussed. Finally, specific recommendations are made for future research directions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)662-676
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • attention
  • emotion
  • faces
  • visual search

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