Affective learning increases sensitivity to graded emotional faces

Emotion. 2008 Feb;8(1):96-103. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.8.1.96.


How does the affective significance of emotional faces affect perceptual decisions? We manipulated affective significance by pairing 100% fearful faces with aversive electrical stimulation and hypothesized that increasing the significance of a stimulus via its prior history would lead to enhanced processing. After fear conditioning, participants viewed graded emotional faces that ranged from neutral to fearful. Faces were shown either in a color that was previously paired with shock or a color not paired with shock during conditioning. Increases in the frequency of "fearful" responses for faces shown in the shock-paired color were most robust for faces at intermediate intensity levels (40-60% fearful). Psychometric fits to the data revealed significant increased sensitivity for shock-paired relative to unpaired faces. Thus, despite identical physical features for shock-paired and unpaired stimuli (aside from the color, which was counterbalanced), more frequent (and faster) "fearful" responses were made when participants viewed affectively significant stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male