Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Cogn Emot. 2017 June ; 31(4): 772–780.


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Surprised expressions are interpreted as negative by some people, and as positive by others. When compared to fearful expressions, which are consistently rated as negative, surprise and fear share similar morphological structure (e.g., widened eyes), but these similarities are primarily in the upper part of the face (eyes). We hypothesized, then, that individuals would be more likely to interpret surprise positively when fixating faster to the lower part of the face (mouth). Participants rated surprised and fearful faces as either positive or negative while eye movements were recorded. Positive ratings of surprise were associated with longer fixation on the mouth than negative ratings. There were also individual differences in fixation patterns, with individuals who fixated the mouth earlier exhibiting increased positive ratings. These findings suggest that there are meaningful individual differences in how people process faces.

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