Attention capture by faces

Stephen R.H. Langton*, Anna S. Law, A. Mike Burton, Stefan R. Schweinberger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

251 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


We report three experiments that investigate whether faces are capable of capturing attention when in competition with other non-face objects. In Experiment 1a participants took longer to decide that an array of objects contained a butterfly target when a face appeared as one of the distracting items than when the face did not appear in the array. This irrelevant face effect was eliminated when the items in the arrays were inverted in Experiment 1b ruling out an explanation based on some low-level image-based properties of the faces. Experiment 2 replicated and extended the results of Experiment 1a. Irrelevant faces once again interfered with search for butterflies but, when the roles of faces and butterflies were reversed, irrelevant butterflies no longer interfered with search for faces. This suggests that the irrelevant face effect is unlikely to have been caused by the relative novelty of the faces or arises because butterflies and faces were the only animate items in the arrays. We conclude that these experiments offer evidence of a stimulus-driven capture of attention by faces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-342
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


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