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Brain perks up to uncertain threats

The brain shows particular sensitivity to facial expressions that convey ambiguous threats rather than clear ones, according to a new brain-imaging investigation.

In their study, Reginald B. Adams Jr. of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and his coworkers assumed that an angry facial expression indicates a clear threat to an observer if it's combined with eyes looking straight ahead, but an ambiguous threat if combined with eyes looking away. They also assumed that a fearful face with eyes looking to one side indicates clearly to an observer where a nearby threat is located, whereas eyes looking directly at an observer from a fearful face portray a vague threat.

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