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Faces and awareness: low-level, not emotional factors determine perceptual dominance

Gray, K. L. H. ORCID:, Adams, W., Hedger, N., Newton, K. and Garner, M. (2013) Faces and awareness: low-level, not emotional factors determine perceptual dominance. Emotion, 13 (3). pp. 537-544. ISSN 1931-1516

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1037/a0031403


Threat-relevant stimuli such as fear faces are prioritized by the human visual system. Recent research suggests that this prioritization begins during unconscious processing: A specialized (possibly subcortical) pathway evaluates the threat relevance of visual input, resulting in preferential access to awareness for threat stimuli. Our data challenge this claim. We used a continuous flash suppression (CFS) paradigm to present emotional face stimuli outside of awareness. It has been shown using CFS that salient (e.g., high contrast) and recognizable stimuli (faces, words) become visible more quickly than less salient or less recognizable stimuli. We found that although fearful faces emerge from suppression faster than other faces, this was wholly explained by their low-level visual properties, rather than their emotional content. We conclude that, in the competition for visual awareness, the visual system prefers and promotes unconscious stimuli that are more “face-like,” but the emotional content of a face has no effect on stimulus salience.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:39471
Publisher:American Psychological Association

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