Is fear perception special? Evidence at the level of decision-making and subjective confidence

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Nov;11(11):1772-1782. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw084. Epub 2016 Jul 12.


Fearful faces are believed to be prioritized in visual perception. However, it is unclear whether the processing of low-level facial features alone can facilitate such prioritization or whether higher-level mechanisms also contribute. We examined potential biases for fearful face perception at the levels of perceptual decision-making and perceptual confidence. We controlled for lower-level visual processing capacity by titrating luminance contrasts of backward masks, and the emotional intensity of fearful, angry and happy faces. Under these conditions, participants showed liberal biases in perceiving a fearful face, in both detection and discrimination tasks. This effect was stronger among individuals with reduced density in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region linked to perceptual decision-making. Moreover, participants reported higher confidence when they accurately perceived a fearful face, suggesting that fearful faces may have privileged access to consciousness. Together, the results suggest that mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex contribute to making fearful face perception special.

Keywords: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLFPC); fearful face perception; metacognition; perceptual decision-making; voxel-based morphometry (VBM).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metacognition / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult