Why faces on roadside billboards distract you

London, Oct 9 (IANS) If you get distracted by a pretty face that floats into your field of view at workplace or while driving, do not feel guilty. Getting distracted by a face is natural so much so that even facial expressions can cause distraction, a new study finds.

According to the study carried out at International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA), Italy, both the gender of the face and the emotion it expresses have distracting effects, though the latter seems to respond to a deeper, automatic and implicit mechanism.

The researchers conducted two experiments in which a motor task performed on a tablet display screen was disturbed by the appearance of faces.

In the first one, during the motor task the subject was asked to observe and report the type of emotion expressed by the face, and in the second one its gender.

In both experiments the relevant dimension influenced the trajectory the subject’s finger traced on the tablet (it attracted it towards the point on the screen where the face had appeared).

According to the authors, this means that emotionally charged expressions are a powerful distractor that works even at an implicit level, that is, without attention being paid to this type of stimulus.

“Expressions, and in particular anger, which was shown to have the most pronounced effect in our experiments, are evolutionarily important stimuli,” explained co- researcher Francesco Foroni.

“The negative aspect of this distractor effect, on the other hand, is that it can lead to dangerous situations. Imagine a driver being distracted by billboards showing faces – it’s not such an unlikely situation. Those in charge of road safety should take this into account,” Foroni added.

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