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Beatrice de Gelder; Perceiving bodily expressions with or without visual awareness. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):14. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/11.11.14.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Bodily expressions of emotion are powerful signals regulating communicative exchanges. For better or worse, we spend our life surrounded by other people. Nothing is less surprising than to assume that we are trained and over-trained to read their body language. When we see someone running with the hands protecting his face we perceive at once the fear and the action of running for cover. We rarely hesitate to assign meaning to such behaviors, and we do not wait to recognize fight behavior till we are close by enough to see the person's facial expression. Here we report on new findings concerning the role of attention and of visual awareness on the perception and neurofunctional basis of our ability to recognize bodily expressions. Our experiments show that briefly seen, but also consciously unseen bodily stimuli may induce an emotional state and trigger adaptive actions in the observer. Exposure to unseen emotional stimuli triggers activity in the cortical and subcortical visual system and is associated with somatic changes typical of emotions. Specifically, unattended but also non-consciously perceived emotional body expressions elicit spontaneous facial expressions and psychophysiological changes that reflect the affective valence and arousal components of the stimuli. Similar results are also obtained in neurologically intact subjects in whom blindsight-like effects are induced by visual masking. Moreover, participants facial reactions are faster and autonomic arousal is higher for unseen than for seen stimuli. We will discuss the implications of these findings for current debates in human emotion theories.
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