June 17, 2006
Angry Male Faces Noticed Most Rapidly

Angry men stand out in a crowd.

By comparing how quickly human facial expressions of different types are detected in a crowd of neutral faces, researchers have demonstrated that male angry faces are a priority for visual processing particularly for male observers. The findings are reported by Mark Williams of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jason Mattingley of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and appear in the June 6th issue of Current Biology.

In evolutionary terms, it makes sense that our attention is attracted by threat in the environment. It has long been hypothesized that facial expressions that signal potential threat, such as anger, may capture attention and therefore "stand out" in a crowd. In fact, there are specific brain regions that are dedicated to processing threatening facial expressions. Given the many differences between males and females, with males being larger and more physically aggressive than females, one might also suspect differences in the way in which threat is detected from individuals of different genders.

In the new work, Williams and Mattingley show that angry male faces are found more rapidly than angry female faces by both men and women. In addition, men find angry faces of both genders faster than women, whereas women find socially relevant expressions (for example, happy or sad) more rapidly. The work suggests that although males are biased toward detecting threatening faces, and females are more attuned to socially relevant expressions, both sexes prioritize the detection of angry male faces; in short, angry men get noticed. The advantage for detecting angry male faces is consistent with the notion that human perceptual processes have been shaped by evolutionary pressures arising from the social environment.

Angry males are a greater potential threat than angry females. So it makes sense that natural selection would favor a wiring of human brains that make them more easily recognized.

There's a security angle here: Secret Service and other professional bodyguard outfits that need to recognize angry male would-be assassins might do that job better with male agents. However, do assassins look and feel angry? Or are some feeling thrills at what they are about to do? If assassins express other kinds of emotions when preparing to kill then maybe women would be better at recognizing them.

What I wonder: Just how many distinct adaptations and abilities has natural selection wired into human brains? How many of those abilities are trade-offs with other abilities? For example, in the case above while males have an advantage recognizing angry faces females have an advantage in decoding the meaning of other facial expressions.

Also, once scientists identify which genetic variations make those abilities more or less pronounced which abilities will people choose to give their offspring? I think the question of how people will genetically engineer their offspring is one of the most important questions we face for the future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 17 07:42 AM  Brain Innate


Comments
lindsey said at April 4, 2012 8:50 AM:

Im a woman who has ADHD, i can say that when im angry it shows in my face more then in my actions. I have noticed that people do notice and react to the expression in an instant way. Men appear to always spot it first, this is something that i dont like as i put it down to sexism, i.e there being sexist for reacting to an angry woman. I have not been angry for about 4 months, but i was today. When im angry i go out and walk to expand energy, i did observe out quick people notice the anger, it appears to be universal in everyone and two quick to be to do with any kind of political ideals about weather women should be angry or not. I understand why evolution gave people this ability as when other people feel angry they often start fighting or become a problem for others. Me i just like to be left alone to walk or run it off, to me its just another emotion, it can even be used to get on and do things. I think the way the brain works maybe could do with a rethink, it served us in a primative environment but hinders us now. No offence, but the male brain in in strong need of a rethink in how it process this kind of information. Men tend to fight like for like, if they see an angry man they often get angry back, which makes things worse. In the past it would be because they were fighting for something that could only be won that way. Now nothing can be won rightfully by anger. Women too look at angry people from an unsympathetic stance, which they carnt help either as its wired in the brain. As someone with ADHD, who gets angry less often then i used to, due to effective medication and my own way of dealing with it. I can say that anger in humans should be treated in the way sadness is treated, as its a state of suffering which you get locked into. The way other people respond with the primitive part of there brain makes the angry feeling worse, i would like it if other people could not tell i was angry as it is nothing to do with them. I think the modern day human has become two self aware for the animal brain and has too much of a sense of individuality that goes behond simple survival and living for reproduction only. Humans have outgrown there animal brain, but the animal brain will not let up. In my view anger and passivity cause me the same problem, anger blocks my ability to think and in a sense switches me down, it would make me less able to get myself out of a bad situation. In todays world if someone is out to get me, i would need my brain switched on full to defend my corner. So if i could have my genome altered i would have both anger and fear removed. If the male brain could be altered it would be better to switch down the anger recognition to female levels, and anger levels in average humans down to female levels. I think some people have over active anger recognition centres and even mistake motivated people as angry, i think this is why higher class people are often attacked in rougher parts of towns and citys. The higher motivation and drive is mistakemn for aggression, this is why people living in very aggressive areas have to keep there head down. This stifyles there creativity, many people are so close to there animal brain it keeps them in fear, which in turn keeps them down.

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