Eye movements during emotion recognition in faces

M. W. Schurgin*, J. Nelson, S. Iida, H. Ohira, J. Y. Chiao, S. L. Franconeri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


When distinguishing whether a face displays a certain emotion, some regions of the face may contain more useful information than others. Here we ask whether people differentially attend to distinct regions of a face when judging different emotions. Experiment 1 measured eye movements while participants discriminated between emotional (joy, anger, fear, sadness, shame, and disgust) and neutral facial expressions. Participant eye movements primarily fell in five distinct regions (eyes, upper nose, lower nose, upper lip, nasion). Distinct fixation patterns emerged for each emotion, such as a focus on the lips for joyful faces and a focus on the eyes for sad faces. These patterns were strongest for emotional faces but were still present when viewers sought evidence of emotion within neutral faces, indicating a goal-driven influence on eye-gaze patterns. Experiment 2 verified that these fixation patterns tended to reflect attention to the most diagnostic regions of the face for each emotion. Eye movements appear to follow both stimulus-driven and goal-driven perceptual strategies when decoding emotional information from a face.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2014


  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Eye movements
  • Face recognition
  • Fixation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Ophthalmology


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