Visual awareness and the detection of fearful faces

Emotion. 2005 Jun;5(2):243-7. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.5.2.243.


A commonly held view is that emotional stimuli are processed independently of awareness. Here, the authors parametrically varied the duration of a fearful face target stimulus that was backward masked by a neutral face. The authors evaluated awareness by characterizing behavioral performance using receiver operating characteristic curves from signal detection theory. Their main finding was that no universal objective awareness threshold exists for fear perception. Although several subjects displayed a behavioral pattern consistent with previous reports (i.e., targets masked at 33 ms), a considerable percentage of their subjects (64%) were capable of reliably detecting 33-ms targets. Their findings suggest that considerable information is available even in briefly presented stimuli (possibly as short as 17 ms) to support masked fear detection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception*