, Volume 73, Issue 2, pp 473-481
Date: 10 Nov 2010

Differential priming effect for subliminal fear and disgust facial expressions


Compared to neutral or happy stimuli, subliminal fear stimuli are known to be well processed through the automatic pathway. We tried to examine whether fear stimuli could be processed more strongly than other negative emotional stimuli using a modified subliminal affective priming paradigm. Twenty-six healthy subjects participated in two separated sessions. Fear, disgust and neutral facial expressions were adopted as primes, and 50% happy facial stimuli were adopted as a target to let only stronger negative primes reveal a priming effect. Participants were asked to appraise the affect of target faces in the affect appraisal session and to appraise the genuineness of target faces in the genuineness appraisal session. The genuineness instruction was developed to help participants be sensitive to potential threats. In the affect appraisal, participants judged 50% happy target faces significantly more ‘unpleasant’ when they were primed by fear faces than primed by 50% happy control faces. In the genuineness appraisal, participants judged targets significantly more ‘not genuine’ when they were primed by fear and disgust faces than primed by controls. These findings suggest that there may be differential priming effects between subliminal fear and disgust expressions, which could be modulated by a sensitive context of potential threat.