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Facilitation of visual processing by masked presentation of a conditioned facial stimulus

Lee, Tae-Ho; Lim, Seung-Lark; Lee, Kyu-Yong; Choi, June-Seek

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832a5cfa

We tested whether a conditioned emotional stimulus could facilitate visual processing when presented subliminally. Participants received Pavlovian conditioning in which a fearful expression (conditioned stimulus) was paired with electric finger shock (unconditioned stimulus). In a subsequent session, they were subject to a simple perceptual task involving subliminal presentation of facial expressions followed by a simple color patch. Although none of the participants reported conscious detection of the facial stimuli, early posterior negativity was significantly enhanced to the conditioned fear face and the neutral face of the same identity. Paralleling the brain activity, reaction times to the conditioned stimulus faces were also facilitated. These results suggest that conditioned threat stimuli can facilitate perceptual processing even when they are processed unconsciously.

Department of Psychology, Korea University, Seoul, Korea

Correspondence to June-Seek Choi, Department of Psychology, Korea University, Anam-dong, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul 136-701, Korea

Tel/fax: +82 2 3290 2069; e-mail:

Present address of T-H Lee is Department of Psychology, Korea Military Academy, Seoul, Korea and S-L Lim is Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University-Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Received 23 December 2008 accepted 11 February 2009

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.