Serial dependence promotes the stability of perceived emotional expression depending on face similarity

Alina Liberman, Mauro Manassi* (Corresponding Author), David Whitney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals can quickly and effortlessly recognize facial expressions, which is critical for social perception and emotion regulation. This sensitivity to even slight facial changes could result in unstable percepts of an individual’s expression over time. The visual system must therefore balance accuracy with maintaining perceptual stability. However, previous research has focused on our sensitivity to changing expressions, and the mechanism behind expression stability remains an open question. Recent results demonstrate that perception of facial identity is systematically biased toward recently seen visual input. This positive perceptual pull, or serial dependence, may help stabilize perceived expression. To test this, observers judged random facial expression morphs ranging from happy to sad to angry. We found a pull in perceived expression toward previously seen expressions, but only when the 1-back and current face had similar identities. Our results are consistent with the existence of the continuity field for expression, a specialized mechanism that promotes the stability of emotion perception, which could help facilitate social interactions and emotion regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1461-1473
Number of pages12
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number6
Early online date7 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Supported by National Eye Institute Grant No. 2RO1EY018216 to D.W., Kirschstein National Research Service Award under Grant No. 1F31EY025942 and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 1106400 to A.L. This work was presented, in part, at the Vision Sciences Society meeting in 2015.


  • Serial dependence
  • Face perception
  • Perceptual stability


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