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Anke Haberkamp, Kathrin Niederprüm, Thomas Schmidt; The influence of aversive natural images on visual processing and awareness. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):113. doi: 10.1167/11.11.113.
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In a recent response priming study, we found that spider pictures lead to faster visuomotor processing in spider fearful participants, compared to snake or neutral pictures (Haberkamp, Schmidt, & Schmidt, in preparation). We assume that these findings are due to perceptual learning processes, more specifically to “hardwired binding” of spider features, in spider fearful participants. We hypothesize that spider fearfuls should also outperform non-anxious control participants in their ability to detect masked spider primes (i.e., their visual awareness of the primes). Therefore, we applied a masking paradigm: in each experimental trial, one prime and target, chosen randomly from one of four stimulus categories (spiders, snakes, mushrooms, flowers), were presented in rapid sequence. In half of the trials the prime was masked by a 1/f noise mask. In the first four experimental sessions, participants performed speeded keypress responses to classify the targets (“Target ID”). In the second four sessions participants tried to identify the masked or unmasked primes (“Prime ID”). In both identification tasks, participants performed two classification tasks: They either discriminated spiders and snakes from flowers and mushrooms (“animal vs. non-animal task”) or spiders and mushrooms from snakes and flowers (“snake vs. spider task”). Results in non-phobic participants showed strong and reliable priming effects in the “Target ID” task in both conditions and a strong influence of the mask in the “Prime ID” task. These results will be compared with those of spider fearful participants to draw conclusions about image processing of fear-relevant stimuli in anxious participants.
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