The primacy of negative interpretations when resolving the valence of ambiguous facial expressions

Maital Neta, Paul J. Whalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations

Abstract

Low-spatial-frequency (LSF) visual information is processed in an elemental fashion before a finer analysis of high-spatial-frequency information. Further, the amygdala is particularly responsive to LSF information contained within negative (e.g., fearful) facial expressions. In a separate line of research, it has been shown that surprised facial expressions are ambiguous in that they can be interpreted as either negatively or positively valenced. More negative interpretations of surprise are associated with increased ventral amygdala activity. In this report, we show that LSF presentations of surprised expressions bias the interpretation of surprised expressions in a negative direction, a finding suggesting that negative interpretations are first and fast during the resolution of ambiguous valence. We also examined the influence of subjects' positivity-negativity bias on this effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)901-907
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Volume21
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Ambiguity
  • Amygdala
  • Facial expressions
  • Low spatial frequencies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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