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

Nathan Caruana, Christine Inkley, Marwa El Zein, Kiley Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)

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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16198
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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