The impacts of emotional content, reward and effort on overt shifts of visual attention
We find other people’s faces very interesting and prefer to look at them compared to most other objects, particularly if they show an emotional expression. Even our brain reacts more strongly to emotional compared to neutral faces. However, it is challenging to measure brain responses when people move their eyes freely around on a computer screen, because eye-movements can interfere with the brain responses we measure. This study used a new method, combining eye-tracking with Electroencephalography (EEG), to simultaneously measure where participants are looking and what is happening in their brain. We presented faces showing happy, angry or neutral expressions. Participants looked at emotional and neutral faces with a similar speed and the early brain responses did not differ depending on the emotion. This shows that fast eye-movements are unaffected by emotional expressions. However, later brain responses were stronger when participants saw emotional faces than when they looked at neutral faces. This means that we can look at other people’s faces faster than our brain can notice which emotional expression they show.