Surprise? Surprise! A categorization advantage for pleasantly surprised faces

Ottmar V. Lipp, Eva Wright, Shannon Heard, Belinda M. Craig

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractResearchpeer-review


Happy facial expressions are recognized faster than negative expressions like anger and this happy face advantage is more pronounced for female than male faces. The evaluative congruence account suggests that this occurs as relatively positively evaluated female faces prime categorization of positive expressions (happiness). Under this account, a categorization advantage for female faces should emerge for other positive expressions. To investigate this, participants categorized the emotion present on male and female expressing pleasant and unpleasant surprise along with happiness or anger (Experiment 1) and pleasant surprise with happiness and or fear (Experiment 2). Participants in Experiment 1 were faster and more accurate to categorize pleasant surprise than anger on female faces and slower and less accurate to categorize unpleasantly surprised than happiness on female faces. No such surprise advantage or disadvantage emerged for male faces. There was no difference in the speed or accuracy of categorizing anger or unpleasant surprise, and happiness was categorized faster and more accurately than pleasant surprise for faces of both sexes. Experiment 2 confirmed the pleasant surprise advantage indicating that pleasant surprise was categorized more accurately (although not faster) than fear on female faces, with the inverse pattern emerging for males. Again, happiness was categorized faster than positive surprise for both sexes. The pleasant surprise advantage is consistent with the evaluative congruence account for emotion categorization and indicates that past reports of a happy face advantage reflect the positive valence happiness and not the preferential recognition of happiness specifically.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes
Event45th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Experimental Psychology - Hobart Function and Conference Centre, Hobart, Australia
Duration: 4 Apr 20187 Apr 2018
Conference number: 45th


Conference45th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Experimental Psychology
Abbreviated titleEPC
Internet address


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