Previous studies have demonstrated that the serotonin transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) affects the recognition of facial expressions and attention to them. However, the relationship between 5-HTTLPR and the perceptual detection of others' facial expressions, the process which takes place prior to emotional labeling (i.e., recognition), is not clear. To examine whether the perceptual detection of emotional facial expressions is influenced by the allelic variation (short/long) of 5-HTTLPR, happy and sad facial expressions were presented at weak and mid intensities (25% and 50%). Ninety-eight participants, genotyped for 5-HTTLPR, judged whether emotion in images of faces was present. Participants with short alleles showed higher sensitivity (d′) to happy than to sad expressions, while participants with long allele(s) showed no such positivity advantage. This effect of 5-HTTLPR was found at different facial expression intensities among males and females. The results suggest that at the perceptual stage, a short allele enhances the processing of positive facial expressions rather than that of negative facial expressions.
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