Emotion Unchained: Facial Expression Modulates Gaze Cueing under Cognitive Load

2016-12-13T18:51:12Z (GMT) by Anna Pecchinenda Manuel Petrucci

Direction of eye gaze cues spatial attention, and typically this cueing effect is not modulated by the expression of a face unless top-down processes are explicitly or implicitly involved. To investigate the role of cognitive control on gaze cueing by emotional faces, participants performed a gaze cueing task with happy, angry, or neutral faces under high (i.e., counting backward by 7) or low cognitive load (i.e., counting forward by 2). Results show that high cognitive load enhances gaze cueing effects for angry facial expressions. In addition, cognitive load reduces gaze cueing for neutral faces, whereas happy facial expressions and gaze affected object preferences regardless of load. This evidence clearly indicates a differential role of cognitive control in processing gaze direction and facial expression, suggesting that under typical conditions, when we shift attention based on social cues from another person, cognitive control processes are used to reduce interference from emotional information.