Attentional Load Effects on Emotional Content in Face Working Memory

Livia Valenti* (Corresponding Author), Isabella Wada Pucci, Ricardo Basso Garcia, Margaret C Jackson, Cesar Galera

*Corresponding author for this work

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This study investigated the role of attentional resources in processing emotional faces in working memory (WM). Participants memorised two face arrays with the same emotion but different identities and were required to judge whether the test face had the same identity as one of the previous faces. Concurrently during encoding and maintenance, a sequence of high-orlow pitched tones (high load) or white noise bursts (low load) was presented, and participants were required to count how many low-tones were heard. Experiments 1 and 2 used an emotional
and neutral test face, respectively. Results revealed a significant WM impairment for sad and angry faces in the high load vs low load condition but not for happy faces. In Experiment 1, participants remembered happy faces better than other emotional faces. In contrast, Experiment 2 showed that performance was poorer for happy than sad faces but not for angry faces. This evidence suggests that depleting attentional resources has less impact on WM for happy faces than other emotional faces, but also that differential effects on WM for emotional faces depend on the presence or absence of emotion in the probe face at retrieval.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1696-1709
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
Early online date3 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation under Grant (FAPESP 2017/09368-1); National Council for Scientific and Technological Development under Grant (CNPq 140055/2017-7). RBG was supported by the FAPESP grant (2015/23331-8) and by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior—Brasil (CAPES)—Finance Code 001. CG was supported by National Council for Scientific and Technological Development under Grant (CNPq 307791/2018-1).

Data Availability Statement

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within its supplementary materials.


  • visual working memory
  • attention
  • face recognition
  • emotion


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