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Andrew M. Herbert, Leanne Stefano, Tristan L. Conley, Jeff B. Pelz; Re-examining the preferential detection of negative stimuli: Better performance for positive faces. Journal of Vision 2008;8(17):57. doi: 10.1167/8.17.57.
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Djiksterhuis and Aarts (2003) reported that participants guessed the valence of ‘subliminally’-presented negative words better than positive words, and argued this reflected a predisposition to detect threatening stimuli. Their results contrast reports of faster and more accurate recognition of positively valenced stimuli, notably faces. We repeated Djikersthuis and Aarts″ Experiment 2 (where valence was judged for masked 13.3 ms presentations of words) using the same set of words, a set of emotional words (bliss, sulk, rage, etc.), and with positive (smiling) and negative (angry or sad) color photographs of faces. Stimuli were presented using MATLAB on a Sony G420 19' CRT driven by a PC. Words were preceded and followed by a mask of Xs, and faces by scrambled face parts. Faces were from the NimStim (Tottenham et al., in press) and the Beall and Herbert (in press) sets. Exposure duration was 13.3 ms, and participants reported guessing on all trials with low confidence, consistent with Djiksterhuis and Aarts' study. We found no significant difference in judging the negative and positive valence of either set of words (p [[gt]].1), although performance was worse for the emotion words. The valence of positive faces was judged significantly more accurately than negative faces (62.5% versus 51.3%, p [[lt]] .01). Face valence was judged correctly at a rate higher than words. These results suggest positively-valenced faces are more detectable than negative faces, calling into question the conclusion that threatening stimuli are preferentially processed.
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