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Rapid processing of emotional expressions without conscious awareness

Smith, Marie L. (2012) Rapid processing of emotional expressions without conscious awareness. Cerebral Cortex 22 (8), pp. 1748-1760. ISSN 1047-3211.

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Rapid accurate categorization of the emotional state of our peers is of critical importance and as such many have proposed that facial expressions of emotion can be processed without conscious awareness. Typically, studies focus selectively on fearful expressions due to their evolutionary significance, leaving the subliminal processing of other facial expressions largely unexplored. Here, I investigated the time course of processing of 3 facial expressions (fearful, disgusted, and happy) plus an emotionally neutral face, during objectively unaware and aware perception. Participants completed the challenging "which expression?" task in response to briefly presented backward-masked expressive faces. Although participant's behavioral responses did not differentiate between the emotional content of the stimuli in the unaware condition, activity over frontal and occipitotemporal (OT) brain regions indicated an emotional modulation of the neuronal response. Over frontal regions this was driven by negative facial expressions and was present on all emotional trials independent of later categorization. Whereas the N170 component, recorded on lateral OT electrodes, was enhanced for all facial expressions but only on trials that would later be categorized as emotional. The results indicate that emotional faces, not only fearful, are processed without conscious awareness at an early stage and highlight the critical importance of considering categorization response when studying subliminal perception.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): awareness, emotion, event-related potentials, facial expressions, N170
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Science > Psychological Sciences
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2011 09:09
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:21

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