Eye gaze influences working memory for happy but not angry faces

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Previous research has shown that angry and happy faces are perceived as less emotionally intense when shown with averted versus direct gaze. Other work reports that long-term memory (LTM) for angry (but not happy) faces was poorer when they were encoded with averted versus direct gaze, suggesting that threat signals are diluted when eye contact is not engaged. The current study examined whether gaze modulates working memory (WM) for angry and happy faces. In stark contrast to LTM effects, WM for angry faces was not significantly modulated by gaze direction. However, WM for happy faces was significantly enhanced when gaze was averted versus direct. These findings suggest that in WM - when rapid processing and an immediate response is required – averted gaze may alter the meaning behind a smile, and make this kind of expression particularly salient for short-term processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-728
Number of pages10
JournalCognition & Emotion
Issue number4
Early online date30 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • emotion
  • gaze
  • working memory
  • faces
  • happy


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