Facilitated Attentional Orienting and Delayed Disengagement to Conscious and Nonconscious Fearful Faces
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Fearful facial expressions are salient nonverbal social cues that signal the existence of potential threat within the environment. These threat signals capture spatial attention both when processed consciously (unmasked) and nonconsciously (masked). Studies using masked fearful faces have most reliably found speeded orienting towards their location, but delayed disengagement from this location has also been observed. Surprisingly however, the extent to which orienting and disengagement processes underlie modulations in spatial attention to conscious/unmasked fearful faces has yet to be explored. Here, participants performed an unmasked and masked fearful face dot-probe task, which included a baseline condition to assess attentional orienting and disengagement effects. We found that both unmasked and masked fearful faces capture spatial attention through facilitated orienting and delayed disengagement. These results provide new evidence that consciously and nonconsciously processed social expressions of fear facilitate attention through similar mechanisms.
KeywordsAwareness Facial expressions Fear Threat Attention bias
Research supported by Army Research Office Grant W911NF1110246 (LRMP & JMC).
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