Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Lebenswissen­schaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Psychologie

Binocular rivalry and positive and negative facial affect

In this project, I am using binocular rivalry to study whether positive facial expression stimuli enjoy dominance over negative facial expression stimuli. I am also interested in studying factors that could moderate this pattern of dominance.
Some well established facial processing models predict that negative facial expressions grab attention better than positive facial expressions (Hansen & Hansen, 1988; Öhman, 1986). Caccioppo et al’s (e.g., Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994; Cacioppo, Gardner, & Berntson, 1999) model of emotional stimuli processing agrees with this prediction but only when the individual is highly threatened. At low threat level, however, positive stimuli have a processing advantage compared to negative stimuli. Yoon et al. (2009) found that happy faces enjoyed greater dominance over disgusted faces, which supports the Cacioppo et al. model. They conclude that this is strong evidence for an evolutionary advantage for positive stimuli under low threat. I am currently testing the other part of Cacioppo’s theory. As angry faces engage the participants more because they contain an urgency to react (high threat), they should dominate over happy faces. Furthermore, I am investigating potential top-down moderator effects of mood on the dominance period of emotional stimuli. For example, does an angry face’s dominance increase when participants are in an anxious mood?