Two studies examined an unexplored motivational determinant of facial emotion recognition: observer regulatory focus. It was predicted that a promotion focus would enhance facial emotion recognition relative to a prevention focus because the attentional strategies associated with promotion focus enhance performance on well-learned or innate tasks - such as facial emotion recognition. In Study 1, a promotion or a prevention focus was experimentally induced and better facial emotion recognition was observed in a promotion focus compared to a prevention focus. In Study 2, individual differences in chronic regulatory focus were assessed and attention allocation was measured using eye tracking during the facial emotion recognition task. Results indicated that the positive relation between a promotion focus and facial emotion recognition is mediated by shorter fixation duration on the face which reflects a pattern of attention allocation matched to the eager strategy in a promotion focus (i.e., striving to make hits). A prevention focus did not have an impact neither on perceptual processing nor on facial emotion recognition. Taken together, these findings demonstrate important mechanisms and consequences of observer motivational orientation for facial emotion recognition.
Bibliographical noteFunding: The research was supported by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, project 452-07-006). The funders had no role in study
design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.