A Threatening Face in the Crowd: Effects of Emotional Singletons on Visual Working Memory

Paul M. J. Thomas, Margaret C Jackson, Jane E. Raymond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Faces with threatening versus positive expressions are better remembered in visual working memory (WM) and are especially effective at capturing attention. We asked how the presence of a single threatening or happy face affects WM for concurrently viewed faces with neutral expressions. If threat captures attention and attention determines WM, then a WM performance cost for neutral faces should be evident. However, if threat boosts processing in an object-specific, non-competitive manner, then no such costs should be produced. Participants viewed three neutral and one angry or happy face for two seconds. Face recognition was tested one second later. Although WM was better for singletons than non-singletons and better for angry versus happy singletons, WM for neutral faces remained unaffected by either singleton. These results combined with eye movement and response time analyses argue against a selective attention account of threat-based benefits to WM and support object-specific enhancement via threat processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-263
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


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