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Angry Faces

January 13, 2010

A new study suggests that not only do we cue into angry faces, we’re more likely to think they’re looking right at us even if they’re not.


Recognizing anger…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Angry people often seem like they’re looking directly at us even if they aren’t. This according to Cambridge University psychologists Andrew Calder and Michael Ewbank. They showed volunteers a series of photographs of angry, fearful or neutral facial expressions. Ewbank says the volunteers tended to perceive the angry faces as looking directly at them even if the eyes were gazing slightly to the right or to the left.

MICHAEL EWBANK (Cambridge University):
When you see an angry face and the gaze is quite ambiguous, you’re more likely to interpret that it’s looking at you than it’s not, because in a sense it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.

He says this makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, because being able to tell whether an angry human or predator was staring at them helped our ancestors survive.

So in a sense it’s a kind of adaptive mechanism to be prepared for danger.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.