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Processing Facial Emotion: Can it Occur without Attention?

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  • The processing of facial emotion is important for social situations. Research has shown that the presence of emotionally threat-relevant stimuli (i.e., angry and fearful faces) enhances the processing of subsequent non-emotional stimuli. In these studies, the emotional stimuli were typically presented at the focused attention. Thus, it is not clear whether the processing efficiency provoked by emotional stimuli would still occur when these stimuli were outside of focused attention. Furthermore, no studies have examined whether target difficulty modulates processing of emotional faces. To examine these issues, the present study used a spatial cuing paradigm. A letter “T” with some distracters was presented to the left or right visual field. An emotional face was presented simultaneously with the target letter but in the opposite visual field. Participants were asked to determine the orientation of the letter “T” while ignoring and emotional face. The critical manipulation was whether the location of the emotional face was cued (the attended condition) or not (the unattended condition). Results showed that emotional faces did not affect the processing of the target letter in both the attended and unattended conditions. In addition, this pattern was not modulated by the task difficulty. These findings suggest that emotional faces are not unconsciously perceived when presented as task irrelevant stimuli.
  • Keywords: facial emotion, emotion
  • Keywords: facial emotion, emotion
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