January 22, 2011

The Captivating Face: Look at me I'm Smiling by Vhina Sison

We all hunger for attention, and our eyes provide an open door to a variety of selections to feed our ever growing appetite for the company of others. Attention helps us selectively focus on certain things in an environment (Goldstein, 2010). As indicated, we scan a scene for example in a crowd or social setting and fixate on a certain stimulus and focus our attention on them, stimulus salience makes them stand out. However stimulus salience can vary in context. 

The face is as essential ingredient that facilitates capturing one’s attention and to help us get noticed in a social setting.  However, do emotional facial expressions really play a key role in making several people who display specific expressions more noticeable? However, the even bigger question is what possible emotional facial expressions might be of bigger impact to grab one’s attention?  What facial expression would best help take hold of the attention that we desire from others? What would make one more attractive and thus capture one’s visual attention? Let me give you a bite of this lusciously, intriguing experiment that would certainly give you that satiety to your curiosity of the answers to these questions.  

William et al. (2005), in a 3-part experiment explored whether non-threatening and threatening facial expressions were more likely to attract attention compared to neutral faces. In the first experiment, 12 participants were subjected to conditions that gave them a visual search task with a happy or neutral face being the target stimuli. A set of faces (either in 4’s or 8’s) were shown on screen for 1000ms to the participant and are instructed to press on the button corresponding to the target face that they are to search for (a happy face among neutral faces or a neutral face among happy faces). A four-factor within subjects  design was used to interpret the results, and thus found that participants were faster to detect and inverted happy face than an inverted neutral face. Thus results indicate that happy faces are better detected than neutral faces, and when subjected to distortion (inversion) shows no advantage over neutral faces.
For experiment 2, a similar set-up was conducted however a sad face was used instead of a happy one. Results were similar to the first one, and thus showed how sad faces are better detected than neutral faces.
The 3rd experiment gave more color to the results of the overall study. Here, several conditions were given to participants; one condition was cued wherein they were told to search for a specific facial expression among neutral faces and instructed to respond to it as quickly as possible by pressing a designated button. While the other condition, instructed participants that they should press the button specific button corresponding to a facial expression (happy, sad, fearful and angry) when they see any in the array of faces.

Results show that there were no significant effects on non-threatening versus threatening facial expressions rather happy and angry faces showed to capture one’s attention more by measuring response time compared to sad and fearful faces.  (Interestingly to take note, is that angry faces have revealed to attract attention more than a happy one.) 

After having read what this study revealed, I now believe that happy faces are indeed the way to go. No wonder extraverted people who smile more and are deemed to display positive attitudes like being cheerful and jolly seem to have more friends, get the job position, engage in satisfying relationships and are the center of attention in parties.

Even if the studies show that angry faces attract more attention than happy faces, it’s associated with a negative type of attraction wherein it is posed as a threat to the person who sees them. No wonder attention all on someone who is angry in a social situation, especially when there are dramatic scenes involved but then again people are more likely to keep their distance as to not aggravate the scene. 
So if you want attract attention from people as to initiate establishments of possible friendships or you simply want to captivate your crush’s attention, why not put up that killer smile of yours. 

Williams, M. & et al. (2005). Look at me I’m smiling: Visual search for threatening and non-threatening facial expressions. Visual cognition, 12(1), 25-29
Goldstein, E. (2007).Visual attention. Sensation and Perception, 134-136.

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