Understanding whether people around us are in a good, bad or neutral mood can be critical to our behavior, both when looking directly at them or when they are in our peripheral visual field. However, facial expressions of emotions are often investigated at central visual field or at locations right or left of fixation. Here we assumed that perception of facial emotional valence (the emotion’s pleasantness) changes with distance from central visual field (eccentricity) and that different emotions may be influenced differently by eccentricity. Participants (n = 58) judged the valence of emotional faces across the parafovea (≤ 4°, positive (happy), negative (fearful), or neutral)) while their eyes were being tracked. As expected, performance decreased with eccentricity. Positive valence perception was least affected by eccentricity (accuracy reduction of 10–19% at 4°) and negative the most (accuracy reduction of 35–38% at 4°), and this was not a result of speed-accuracy trade-off or response biases. Within-valence (but not across-valence) performance was associated across eccentricities suggesting perception of different valences is supported by different mechanisms. While our results may not generalize to all positive and negative emotions, they indicate that beyond-foveal investigations can reveal additional characteristics of the mechanisms that underlie facial expression processing and perception.
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