The role of attachment style in the holistic perception of expression




Gregory, Elizabeth
Liu, Xiaoyi
Tanaka, James W.

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Attachment style theory posits that the quality of early child-caregiver relationships will shape an individual’s feelings and behaviors in adult relationships. In face recognition, individuals who are rated as highly anxious in their attachment style are faster and more accurate in their judgments of facial expression than non-anxious individuals (Fraley et al., 2006). In this study, we investigated the timing of processes that link expression recognition and attachment style. We hypothesized that highly anxious people perceive expressions more holistically than non-anxious people. To test the relationship between the holistic expression recognition and attachment style, we created expression composites by joining the top and bottom halves of happy and angry expressions that formed either congruent (e.g., angry top + angry bottom) or incongruent (e.g., angry top + happy bottom) expressions. Neutral face composites (e.g., angry top + neutral bottom) and isolated halves (e.g., angry top only) were used as baseline comparisons. In this experiment, participants (n = 61) were asked to report the expression in the cued top (or bottom) half of the face as “happy” or “angry”. Faces were randomly presented at stimulus onset asynchronies (SOA’s) of 17, 50, or 250 ms and then masked. After the expression task, participants completed the Revised Adult Attachment Style Questionnaire (RAAS). Our main results showed that participants performed significantly better in the congruent condition and significantly worse in the incongruent condition relative to the neutral and isolated conditions. The congruency effect was evident even at the shortest SOA indicating that expressions were perceived holistically after an exposure duration as brief as 17 ms. Reaction time analysis showed that a higher anxious attachment score correlated with increased holistic processing of expressions. Together these results suggest that: 1) holistic perception of expression occurs rapidly and 2) attachment style modulation of expression perception might be mediated by holistic mechanisms.



Expression recognition, holistic processing, attachment style, face perception