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Sex differences in the rapid detection of emotional facial expressions

Sawada, R., Sato, W., Kochiyama, T., Uono, S., Kubota, Y., Yoshimura, S., & Toichi, M.

Background Previous studies have shown that females and males differ in the processing of emotional facial expressions including the recognition of emotion, and that emotional facial expressions are detected more rapidly than are neutral expressions. However, whether the sexes differ in the rapid detection of emotional facial expressions remains unclear. Methodology/Principal Findings We measured reaction times (RTs) during a visual search task in which 44 females and 46 males detected normal facial expressions of anger and happiness or their anti-expressions within crowds of neutral expressions. Anti-expressions expressed neutral emotions with visual changes quantitatively comparable to normal expressions. We also obtained subjective emotional ratings in response to the facial expression stimuli. RT results showed that both females and males detected normal expressions more rapidly than anti-expressions and normal-angry expressions more rapidly than normal-happy expressions. However, females and males showed different patterns in their subjective ratings in response to the facial expressions. Furthermore, sex differences were found in the relationships between subjective ratings and RTs. High arousal was more strongly associated with rapid detection of facial expressions in females, whereas negatively valenced feelings were more clearly associated with the rapid detection of facial expressions in males. Conclusion Our data suggest that females and males differ in their subjective emotional reactions to facial expressions and in the emotional processes that modulate the detection of facial expressions.

PLoS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094747

APR/12/2014

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