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Emotion. 2010 Feb;10(1):141-6. doi: 10.1037/a0017387.

The face in the crowd effect: anger superiority when using real faces and multiple identities.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA.


The "face in the crowd effect" refers to the finding that threatening or angry faces are detected more efficiently among a crowd of distractor faces than happy or nonthreatening faces. Work establishing this effect has primarily utilized schematic stimuli and efforts to extend the effect to real faces have yielded inconsistent results. The failure to consistently translate the effect from schematic to human faces raises questions about its ecological validity. The present study assessed the face in the crowd effect using a visual search paradigm that placed veridical faces, verified to exemplify prototypical emotional expressions, within heterogeneous crowds. Results confirmed that angry faces were found more quickly and accurately than happy expressions in crowds of both neutral and emotional distractors. These results are the first to extend the face in the crowd effect beyond homogenous crowds to more ecologically valid conditions and thus provide compelling evidence for its legitimacy as a naturalistic phenomenon.

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