Visual Scanning and Its Relationship to Facial Emotion Recognition in Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries
Arnold-Oatley, Alexandra Elise
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Objective: Mounting research evidences a relationship between decreased social integration and reduced facial emotion perception (FEP) after traumatic brain injury (TBI). A relationship between visual scanning and the accurate and fast identification of facial emotions was hypothesized. Study 1 aimed to examine the visual scanning of emotional faces under non-speeded and speeded conditions in a sample of typically developing undergraduate students. The goal of Study 2 was to examine the visual scanning of emotional faces in a convenience sample of patients with TBI in comparison to that of a subset of control participants from Study 1. Scan patterns and their relationship to reaction time and accuracy were examined. Participants and Methods: Study 1 included a sample of 33 (9 males) undergraduate students. Study 2 included 17 typically developing controls (9 males) and 10 patients with TBI (7 males). Both studies employed a novel voice-key eye-tracking paradigm that included angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, sad, and surprised faces. Results: Study 1 illustrates that typically developing adults attend to the eyes of emotional faces more than the nose or the mouth. Mean response times among the typically developing undergraduates were 1-3 seconds faster than the reaction times previously reported in button-press studies. Emotion had a significant effect on visual scanning, reaction time and accuracy in Study 1 and Study 2. In Study 2, patients with TBI attended proportionately less to the eyes and proportionally more to less salient features of emotional faces relative to controls, p < .05. The TBI group was significantly slower to label emotional faces than the control group and significantly less accurate, overall, p < .05. Attending to the lower part of the face was negatively related to accuracy in both groups. Conclusions: Overall, the findings demonstrate that typically developing adults scanning of emotional faces is emotion-specific. This dissertation provides initial evidence that the TBI convenience sample scanned the emotional faces differently than the typically developing group. It suggests that visual scanning is related to FEP accuracy and the speed at which emotional faces are labeled. These findings may provide new avenues for FEP assessment and treatment research.