Feeling the Unseen

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Science  11 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5873, pp. 156-157
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5873.156c

In uncertain situations, rapid responses may be called for, and one line of thought suggests that assessments of stimulus valence (positive or negative) occur more quickly than the evolution of specific emotions, such as the discrimination between the two negative-valence states fear and disgust. Previous work has demonstrated that valence detection is indeed fast and can be applied to stimuli that are presented so briefly (a 40-ms exposure to a picture) as to lie outside of conscious awareness. Ruys and Stapel have looked at the question of whether specific emotions can similarly be elicited unconsciously by transiently displayed (120-ms duration) pictures. Measures of cognition (a stem-word completion task), feeling (self-reports of specific emotions), and behavior (choosing to avoid fearful or disgusting movies) all indicated that the super-quick exposure evoked only a valence-based response, whereas the merely quick, yet still subliminal, stimulus was capable of evoking specific emotions. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 19, 385 (2008).

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