Happy Face Superiority Effect in Change Detection Paradigm


  • Domagoj Švegar Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka, Croatia
  • Igor Kardum Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka, Croatia
  • Marko Polič Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia


emotional expression, happy face, change detection paradigm, evolution of smiling


The aim of the present study was to investigate which affective component guides cognitive processing of emotional facial expressions. According to the threat hypothesis, processing of angry faces is prioritized by the human cognitive system, because rapid detection of threat has a large adaptive value. The negativity hypothesis presumes that distressing emotional experiences of other people attract attention, regardless of whether they represent danger or not. The emotionality hypothesis proposes that positive emotional facial expressions can capture attention as effective as negative ones, while the happy face superiority hypothesis predicts that happy faces are prioritized. In the present study, which was conducted on 24 participants, change detection paradigm was used, because that procedure enables insight into the later stage of information processing. The results obtained show that happy facial expressions are heavily prioritized by the human cognitive system. In explanation of these results, that clearly support the happy face superiority hypothesis, we propose that angry expressions are initially prioritized by our cognitive system, because we benefit from early detection of potential threat in the environment, but in later cognitive processing, happy expressions are given the priority, because smiling is a valuable mechanism for forming and maintaining cooperative relationships. Besides the theoretical relevance, the present study is also valuable methodologically, because we demonstrated that change detection paradigm can be efficiently used for the research of emotional facial expressions processing.