Visual search efficiency is greater for human faces compared to animal faces

Elizabeth A. Simpson, Haley L. Husband, Krysten Yee, Alison Fullerton, Krisztina V. Jakobsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The Animate Monitoring Hypothesis proposes that humans and animals were the most important categories of visual stimuli for ancestral humans to monitor, as they presented important challenges and opportunities for survival and reproduction; however, it remains unknown whether animal faces are located as efficiently as human faces. We tested this hypothesis by examining whether human, primate, and mammal faces elicit similarly efficient searches, or whether human faces are privileged. In the first three experiments, participants located a target (human, primate, or mammal face) among distractors (non-face objects). We found fixations on human faces were faster and more accurate than fixations on primate faces, even when controlling for search category specificity. A final experiment revealed that, even when task-irrelevant, human faces slowed searches for non-faces, suggesting some bottom-up processing may be responsible for the human face search efficiency advantage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-456
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal faces
  • Attention
  • Eye tracking
  • Face detection
  • Human face
  • Search efficiency
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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