Assessing the influence of emotional expressions on perceptual sensitivity to faces overcoming interocular suppression

Renzo Lanfranco, Hugh Rabagliati, David Carmel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Detecting faces and identifying their emotional expressions are essential for social interaction. The importance of expressions has prompted suggestions that some emotionally relevant facial features may be processed unconsciously, and it has been further suggested that this unconscious processing yields preferential access to awareness. Evidence for such preferential access has predominantly come from reaction times in the breaking continuous flash suppression (bCFS) paradigm, which measures how long it takes different stimuli to overcome interocular suppression. For instance, it has been claimed that fearful expressions break through suppression faster than neutral expressions. However, in the bCFS procedure, observers can decide how much information they receive before committing to a report, so although their responses may reflect differential detection sensitivity, they may also be influenced by differences in decision criteria, stimulus identification, and response production processes. Here, we employ a procedure that directly measures sensitivity for both face detection and identification of facial expressions, using predefined exposure durations. We apply diverse psychophysical approaches—forced-choice localization, presence/absence detection, and staircase-based threshold measurement; across six experiments, we find that emotional expressions do not alter detection sensitivity to faces as they break through CFS. Our findings constrain the possible mechanisms underlying previous findings: faster reporting of emotional expressions' breakthrough into awareness is unlikely to be due to the presence of emotion affecting perceptual sensitivity; the source of such effects is likely to reside in one of the many other processes that influence response times.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date6 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • emotional expressions
  • continuous flash suppression
  • awareness
  • signal detection theory
  • face processing


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