Emotional expressions and visual search efficiency: Specificity and effects of anxiety symptoms

Bunmi O. Olatunji, Bethany G. Ciesielski, Thomas Armstrong, David H. Zald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Although facial expressions are thought to vary in their functional impact on perceivers, experimental demonstration of the differential effects of facial expressions on behavior are lacking. In the present study, we examined the effects of exposure to facial expressions on visual search efficiency. Participants (n = 31) searched for a target in a 12 location circle array after exposure to an angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, or neutral facial expression for 100 ms or 500 ms. Consistent with predictions, exposure to a fearful expression prior to visual search resulted in faster target identification compared to exposure to other facial expressions. The effects of other facial expressions on visual search did not differ from each other. The fear facilitating effect on visual search efficiency was observed at 500-ms but not at 100-ms presentations, suggesting a specific temporal course of the facilitation. Subsequent analysis also revealed that individual differences in fear of negative evaluation, trait anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms possess a differential pattern of association with visual search efficiency. The experimental and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1079
Number of pages7
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Emotional images
  • Facial expression
  • Visual search


Dive into the research topics of 'Emotional expressions and visual search efficiency: Specificity and effects of anxiety symptoms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this