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Previous research has shown that invariant facial features—for example, sex—and variant facial features—for example, emotional expressions—interact during face categorization.
The nature of this interaction is a matter of dispute, however, and has been reported as either asymmetrical, such that sex cues influence emotion perception but emotional expressions do not affect the perception of sex, or symmetrical, such that sex and emotion cues each reciprocally influence the categorization of the other.
In the present research, we identified stimulus set size as the critical factor leading to this disparity.
Early research was directed at understanding the processing of single facial characteristics in isolation, uncovering findings such as the “happy face advantage,” the faster categorization of happy than of angry faces (Leppänen, Tenhunen, & Hietanen, ).
More recently, the interaction of multiple cues such as sex and emotion is becoming better understood.
Investigation of these interactions is important, because they can dissociate theories of face processing that either propose independent routes for the processing of sex and emotion cues (Bruce & Young, ).
Studies investigating the interaction between cues of sex and emotional expression have yielded reliable results, suggesting that cues of femininity are associated with happiness, whereas masculinity is associated with anger (see Becker, Kenrick, Neuberg, Blackwell, & Smith, ) provided a clear demonstration of a symmetrical interaction between poser sex and emotional expression information.
Participants were presented with facial images of 32 individuals, half male and half female, expressing either happiness or anger.