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Emotional faces guide the eyes in the absence of awareness

  1. Petra Vetter  Is a corresponding author
  2. Stephanie Badde
  3. Elizabeth A Phelps
  4. Marisa Carrasco  Is a corresponding author
  1. Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
  2. New York University, United States
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e43467 doi: 10.7554/eLife.43467

Abstract

The ability to act quickly to a threat is a key skill for survival. Under awareness, threat-related emotional information, such as an angry or fearful face, has not only perceptual advantages but also guides rapid actions such as eye movements. Emotional information that is suppressed from awareness still confers perceptual and attentional benefits. However, it is unknown whether suppressed emotional information can directly guide actions, or whether emotional information has to enter awareness to do so. We suppressed emotional faces from awareness using continuous flash suppression and tracked eye gaze position. Under successful suppression, as indicated by objective and subjective measures, gaze moved towards fearful faces, but away from angry faces. Our findings reveal that: (1) threat-related emotional stimuli can guide eye movements in the absence of visual awareness; (2) threat-related emotional face information guides distinct oculomotor actions depending on the type of threat conveyed by the emotional expression.

Data availability

Source data and all analyses are available on Github (https://github.com/StephBadde/EyeMovementsSuppressedEmotionalFaces).

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Petra Vetter

    Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    petra.vetter@rhul.ac.uk
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-6516-4637
  2. Stephanie Badde

    Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-4005-5503
  3. Elizabeth A Phelps

    Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  4. Marisa Carrasco

    Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, United States
    For correspondence
    marisa.carrasco@nyu.edu
    Competing interests
    Marisa Carrasco, Reviewing editor, eLife.

Funding

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (VE 739/1-1)

  • Petra Vetter

National Institutes of Health (NIH-RO1-EY016200)

  • Marisa Carrasco

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (BA 5600/1-1)

  • Stephanie Badde

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: All participants took part in the experiment in exchange for course credits and signed an informed consent form. The experiment was conducted according to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki and approved by the ethics committee of New York University (IRB# 13-9582).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Melvyn Goodale, Western University, Canada

Publication history

  1. Received: November 7, 2018
  2. Accepted: February 7, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: February 8, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: February 20, 2019 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2019, Vetter et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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