Preferential processing of threatening facial expressions using the repetition blindness paradigm

Loren Mowszowski, Skye McDonald*, Danielle Wang, Cristina Bornhofen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Neuroanatomical evidence suggests that the human brain has dedicated pathways to rapidly process threatening stimuli. This processing bias for threat was examined using the repetition blindness (RB) paradigm. RB (i.e., failure to report the second instance of an identical stimulus rapidly following the first) has been established for words, objects and faces but not, to date, facial expressions. Methods: 78 (Study 1) and 62 (Study 2) participants identified repeated and different, threatening and non-threatening emotional facial expressions in rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) streams. Results: In Study 1, repeated facial expressions produced more RB than different expressions. RB was attenuated for threatening expressions. In Study 2, attenuation of RB for threatening expressions was replicated. Additionally, semantically related but non-identical threatening expressions reduced RB relative to non-threatening stimuli. Conclusions: These findings suggest that the threat bias is apparent in the temporal processing of facial expressions, and expands the RB paradigm by demonstrating that identical facial expressions are susceptible to the effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1238-1255
Number of pages18
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bias
  • Emotion processing
  • Facial expressions
  • Preferential processing
  • Repetition blindness
  • Threat

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