Recognizing masked threat: fear betrays, but disgust you can trust

Emotion. 2008 Dec;8(6):810-9. doi: 10.1037/a0013731.


If emotions guide consciousness, people may recognize degraded objects in center view more accurately if they either fear the objects or are disgusted by them. Therefore, we studied whether recognition of spiders and snakes correlates with individual differences in spider fear, snake fear, and disgust sensitivity. Female students performed a recognition task with pictures of spiders, snakes, flowers, and mushrooms as well as blanks. Pictures were backward masked to reduce picture visibility. Signal detection analyses showed that recognition of spiders and snakes was correlated with disgust sensitivity but not with fear of spiders or snakes. Further, spider fear correlated with the tendency to misinterpret blanks as threatening (response bias). These findings suggest that effects on recognition and response biases to emotional pictures vary for different emotions and emotional traits. Whereas fear may induce response biases, disgust may facilitate recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attitude*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Perceptual Masking*
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Young Adult