Theories of emotion propose that responses to emotional pictures can occur independently of whether or not people are aware of the picture content. Because evidence from dissociation paradigms is inconclusive, we manipulated picture awareness gradually and studied whether emotional responses varied with degree of awareness. Spider fearful and non-fearful participants viewed pictures of spiders and flowers at four levels of backward masking while electrodermal activity and heart rate were measured continuously. Recognition ratings confirmed that participants' picture awareness decreased with masking. Critically, effects of spider fear on emotion ratings and heart rate also decreased with masking. These findings suggest that effects of spider fear on emotion ratings and heart rate are closely related to picture awareness.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)