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Are the eyes a window to the soul or merely a piece of it? Investigation into whether abnormal eye-gaze or weak central coherence causes the greatest impairments in emotion expression recognition

Williams, Jessica (2011) Are the eyes a window to the soul or merely a piece of it? Investigation into whether abnormal eye-gaze or weak central coherence causes the greatest impairments in emotion expression recognition. Liverpool Hope University.

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Abstract

It is unclear whether emotion recognition deficits, in particular those found in autism, are due to a failure to extract salient social information from the eye region or a difficulty in combining all facial cues into a coherent whole. To evaluate which ability is most vital to successful emotion recognition, the availability of these processes were manipulated in non-clinical participants. Participants were presented with six basic expressions of emotion from the Ekman and Friesen Facial Affect set (1976) and performed a six alternative forced choice response task to facial expressions of emotion. In condition 1, the effects of a failure to attend to the eye region were tested through a mask being placed over the eye region. In condition 2, the effects of weak central coherence were tested using a gaze contingent window in which holistic processing was disrupted and the observer was restricted to viewing one fixated feature at a time. Eye fixation data was recorded to examine the influence of information from the eyes and mouth on correct recognition of emotions. Clear differences were seen between the conditions, with emotion recognition most impaired when the eye region was not available. However, the results demonstrated that each emotion was differentially affected by experimental manipulation, in particular recognition of disgust was most impaired in the second condition when holistic processing was disrupted. The results suggest that deficits in emotion recognition can generally be attributed to a failure to attend to the eye region yet local level processing may also play a significant role, depending upon the emotion in question.

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