Scan patterns during the processing of facial expression versus identity: An exploration of task-driven and stimulus-driven effects

George L. Malcolm, Linda J. Lanyon, Andrew J. B. Fugard, Jason J. S. Barton

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Perceptual studies suggest that processing facial identity emphasizes upper-face information, whereas processing expressions of anger or happiness emphasizes the lower-face. The two goals of the present study were to determine (a) if the distributions of eye fixations reflect these upper/lower-face biases, and (b) whether this bias is task-or stimulus-driven. We presented a target face followed by a probe pair of morphed faces, neither of which was identical to the target. Subjects judged which of the pair was more similar to the target face while eye movements were recorded. In Experiment 1 the probe pair always differed from each other in both identity and expression on each trial. In one block subjects judged which probe face was more similar to the target face in identity, and in a second block subjects judged which probe face was more similar to the target face in expression. In Experiment 2 the two probe faces differed in either expression or identity, but not both. Subjects were not informed which dimension differed, but simply asked to judge which probe face was more similar to the target face. We found that subjects scanned the upper-face more than the lower-face during the identity task but the lower-face more than the upper-face during the expression task in Experiment 1 (task-driven effects), with significantly less variation in bias in Experiment 2 (stimulus-driven effects). We conclude that fixations correlate with regional variations of diagnostic information in different processing tasks, but that these reflect top-down task-driven guidance of information acquisition more than stimulus-driven effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Event7th Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society - Sarasota
Duration: 11 May 200716 May 2007


  • face expression
  • face identity
  • scanpath
  • fixation

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