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Unconscious processing of emotional faces

Unconscious processing of emotional faces
Unconscious processing of emotional faces
Due to capacity limits, the brain must select important information for further processing. Evolutionary-based theories suggest that emotional (and specifically threat-relevant) information is prioritised in the competition for attention and awareness (e.g. Ohman & Mineka, 2001). A range of experimental paradigms have been used to investigate whether emotional visual stimuli (relative to neutral stimuli) are selectively processed without awareness, and attract visual attention (e.g. Yang et al., 2007). However, very few studies have used appropriate control conditions that help clarify the extent to which observed effects are driven by the extraction of emotional meaning from these stimuli, or their low-level visual characteristics (such as contrast, or luminance). The experiments in this thesis investigated whether emotional faces are granted preferential access to awareness and which properties of face stimuli drive these effects. A control stimulus was developed to help dissociate between the extraction of emotional information and low-level accounts of the data. It was shown that preferential processing of emotional information is better accounted for by low-level characteristics of the stimuli, rather than the extraction of emotional meaning per se. Additionally, a robust ‘face’ effect was found across several experiments. Investigation of this effect suggested that it may not be driven by the meaningfulness of the stimuli as it was also apparent in an individual that finds it difficult to extract information from faces. Together these findings suggest that high-level information can be extracted from visual stimuli outside of awareness, but the prioritisation afforded to emotional faces is driven by low-level characteristics. These results are particularly timely given continued high-profile debate surrounding the origins of emotion prioritisation (e.g. Tamettio & de Gelder, 2010; Pessoa & Adolphs, 2010).
Gray, Katie L.H.
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Gray, Katie L.H.
b86092bd-a484-4e3f-a367-4c709e90ed77
Adams, Wendy
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Gray, Katie L.H. (2011) Unconscious processing of emotional faces. University of Southampton, School of Psychology, Doctoral Thesis, 225pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Due to capacity limits, the brain must select important information for further processing. Evolutionary-based theories suggest that emotional (and specifically threat-relevant) information is prioritised in the competition for attention and awareness (e.g. Ohman & Mineka, 2001). A range of experimental paradigms have been used to investigate whether emotional visual stimuli (relative to neutral stimuli) are selectively processed without awareness, and attract visual attention (e.g. Yang et al., 2007). However, very few studies have used appropriate control conditions that help clarify the extent to which observed effects are driven by the extraction of emotional meaning from these stimuli, or their low-level visual characteristics (such as contrast, or luminance). The experiments in this thesis investigated whether emotional faces are granted preferential access to awareness and which properties of face stimuli drive these effects. A control stimulus was developed to help dissociate between the extraction of emotional information and low-level accounts of the data. It was shown that preferential processing of emotional information is better accounted for by low-level characteristics of the stimuli, rather than the extraction of emotional meaning per se. Additionally, a robust ‘face’ effect was found across several experiments. Investigation of this effect suggested that it may not be driven by the meaningfulness of the stimuli as it was also apparent in an individual that finds it difficult to extract information from faces. Together these findings suggest that high-level information can be extracted from visual stimuli outside of awareness, but the prioritisation afforded to emotional faces is driven by low-level characteristics. These results are particularly timely given continued high-profile debate surrounding the origins of emotion prioritisation (e.g. Tamettio & de Gelder, 2010; Pessoa & Adolphs, 2010).

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More information

Published date: March 2011
Organisations: University of Southampton, Psychology

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 341583
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/341583
PURE UUID: 35380c38-8fbf-4f19-b2ca-9363592d7a13
ORCID for Wendy Adams: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-5832-1056

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Date deposited: 27 Sep 2012 14:23
Last modified: 06 Jun 2018 12:44

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