Facial hair may slow detection of happy facial expressions in the face in the crowd paradigm

Barnaby J.W. Dixson*, Tamara Spiers, Paul A. Miller, Morgan J. Sidari, Nicole L. Nelson, Belinda M. Craig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
59 Downloads (Pure)


Human visual systems have evolved to extract ecologically relevant information from complex scenery. In some cases, the face in the crowd visual search task demonstrates an anger superiority effect, where anger is allocated preferential attention. Across three studies (N = 419), we tested whether facial hair guides attention in visual search and influences the speed of detecting angry and happy facial expressions in large arrays of faces. In Study 1, participants were faster to search through clean-shaven crowds and detect bearded targets than to search through bearded crowds and detect clean-shaven targets. In Study 2, targets were angry and happy faces presented in neutral backgrounds. Facial hair of the target faces was also manipulated. An anger superiority effect emerged that was augmented by the presence of facial hair, which was due to the slower detection of happiness on bearded faces. In Study 3, targets were happy and angry faces presented in either bearded or clean-shaven backgrounds. Facial hair of the background faces was also systematically manipulated. A significant anger superiority effect was revealed, although this was not moderated by the target’s facial hair. Rather, the anger superiority effect was larger in clean-shaven than bearded face backgrounds. Together, results suggest that facial hair does influence detection of emotional expressions in visual search, however, rather than facilitating an anger superiority effect as a potential threat detection system, facial hair may reduce detection of happy faces within the face in the crowd paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5911
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2022


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