Emotive hemispheric differences measured in real-life portraits using pupil diameter and subjective aesthetic preferences

Abstract

The biased positioning of faces exposed to viewers of Western portraiture has suggested there may be fundamental differences in the lateralized expression and perception of emotion. The present study investigates whether there are differences in the perception of the left and right sides of the face in real-life photographs of individuals. The study paired conscious aesthetic ratings of pleasantness with measurements of pupil size, which are thought to be a reliable unconscious measure of interest first tested by Hess. Images of 10 men and 10 women were taken from the left and right sides of the face. These images were also mirror-reversed. As expected, we found a strong preference for left-sided portraits (regardless of original or mirror-reversed orientation), such that left hemifaces elicited higher ratings and greater pupil dilation. Interestingly, this effect was true of both sexes. A positive linear relationship was also found between pupil size and aesthetic ratings such that pupil size increased with pleasantness ratings. These findings provide support for the notions of lateralized emotion, right-hemispheric dominance, pupillary dilation to pleasant images, and constriction to unpleasant images.

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Acknowledgments

We are indebted to Jeff Muday and John Pettrocelli for help programming and to Steven Davis for help with statistical analysis.

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Correspondence to James Schirillo.

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Blackburn, K., Schirillo, J. Emotive hemispheric differences measured in real-life portraits using pupil diameter and subjective aesthetic preferences. Exp Brain Res 219, 447–455 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-012-3091-y

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Keywords

  • Emotional hemispheric laterality
  • Valence hypothesis
  • Aesthetic pleasantness
  • Pupil dilation/constriction
  • Face perception