SATO Wataru Laboratory

Sex differences in the rapid detection of neutral faces with emotional value

(Saito, Sato, & Yoshikawa: Biol Sex Differ)

Rapid detection of faces with emotional meaning is essential for understanding othersf emotions and may promote successful interpersonal relationships.
Although studies have examined sex differences in the ability to detect emotional faces, it remains unclear whether faces with emotional meaning capture the attention of females and males differently, where emotional faces have visual saliency that modulates visual attention.
Therefore, we compared the ability of males and females to rapidly detect neutral faces with and without learned emotional value.
All faces were free from visual saliency.

First, young adult female and male participants completed an associative learning task in which neutral faces were associated with monetary rewards, monetary punishments, or no monetary outcomes, such that they acquired positive, negative, and no emotional value, respectively.
Next, they completed a visual search task in which previously learned neutral faces were presented as discrepant faces among newly presented neutral distractor faces.
During the visual search task, the participants were required to rapidly identify discrepant faces.

Female and male participants exhibited comparable learning ability.
The visual search results demonstrated that female participants achieved rapid detection of neutral faces associated with emotional value irrespective of the sex of the faces presented, whereas male participants showed this ability only for male faces.

Sex differences in the ability to rapidly detect neutral faces with emotional value were modulated by the sex of those faces.
The results suggest greater sensitivity to faces with emotional significance in females, which might improve their interpersonal communication.

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