Visual scanning in the recognition of facial affect: Is there an observer sex difference? Academic Article uri icon


  • This investigation assessed whether differences exist in the way males and females overtly orient their visual attention to salient facial features while viewing static emotional facial expressions. Eye movements were recorded while fifty healthy participants (23 males, 27 females) viewed a series of six universal facial expressions. Groups were compared with respect to accuracy and reaction time in emotional labeling. The number and duration of foveal fixations to four predefined facial areas of interest (AOIs)--each eye, nose, mouth--were also recorded. There were no significant group differences with respect to accuracy (p = 0.997), though females were significantly faster than males in correctly identifying expressions (p = 0.047). Analysis of the visual scan path revealed that while both groups spent more time and looked more frequently at the eye region, males spent significantly more time viewing the nose and mouth. The duration and number of fixations made to the nose were significantly greater in males (p < 0.05). This study is the first to show reaction time differences between the sexes across a range of universal emotions. Further, this is the first work to suggest the orienting of attention to the lower part of the face, especially the nose, appears to differentiate the sexes.

publication date

  • March 1, 2009