Prominent models of face processing have emphasised the functional and neurological independence of the systems that process invariant facial characteristics (e.g. sex, identity) and facial expressions. Using a visual adaptation paradigm, we demonstrate that expression aftereffects, whereby exposure to an expression decreases sensitivity to that expression, can be simultaneously induced in opposite directions for male and female faces. For example, simultaneous adaptation to angry male faces and fearful female faces decreased sensitivity to anger in male faces and fear in female faces (Experiment 1). These sex-contingent expression aftereffects could not be explained by sex differences in expression production (Experiment 2). Furthermore, sex-contingent adaptation occurred between sex categories but did not occur when equivalent shape differences among adapting faces were within a sex category (Experiment 3). This demonstrates that expressions and the invariant characteristic of face sex are processed by interdependent, rather than independent, systems and reveals a mechanism for integrating information from physical characteristics of faces and social signals during social interactions.
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