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No influence of eye gaze on emotional face processing in the absence of conscious awareness

Caruana, N; Inkley, C; El Zein, M; Seymour, K; (2019) No influence of eye gaze on emotional face processing in the absence of conscious awareness. Scientific Reports , 9 , Article 16198. 10.1038/s41598-019-52728-y. Green open access

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Abstract

The human brain has evolved specialised mechanisms to enable the rapid detection of threat cues, including emotional face expressions (e.g., fear and anger). However, contextual cues – such as gaze direction – influence the ability to recognise emotional expressions. For instance, anger paired with direct gaze, and fear paired with averted gaze are more accurately recognised compared to alternate conjunctions of these features. It is argued that this is because gaze direction conveys the relevance and locus of the threat to the observer. Here, we used continuous flash suppression (CFS) to assess whether the modulatory effect of gaze direction on emotional face processing occurs outside of conscious awareness. Previous research using CFS has demonstrated that fearful facial expressions are prioritised by the visual system and gain privileged access to awareness over other expressed emotions. We hypothesised that if the modulatory effects of gaze on emotional face processing occur also at this level, then the gaze-emotion conjunctions signalling self-relevant threat will reach awareness faster than those that do not. We report that fearful faces gain privileged access to awareness over angry faces, but that gaze direction does not modulate this effect. Thus, our findings suggest that previously reported effects of gaze direction on emotional face processing are likely to occur once the face is detected, where the self-relevance and locus of the threat can be consciously appraised.

Type: Article
Title: No influence of eye gaze on emotional face processing in the absence of conscious awareness
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-52728-y
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-52728-y
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Keywords: Science & Technology, Multidisciplinary Sciences, Science & Technology - Other Topics, FACIAL EXPRESSION, PREFERENTIAL ACCESS, INVISIBLE FACES, HUMAN AMYGDALA, DIRECTION, FEAR, PERCEPTION, RESPONSES, INTEGRATION, ADVANTAGE
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10091611
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