September 2015
Volume 15, Issue 12
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2015
Fear conditioned visual information is prioritized for visual awareness
Author Affiliations
  • Surya Gayet
    Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Helmholtz Institute
  • Chris Paffen
    Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Helmholtz Institute
  • Artem Belopolsky
    Cognitive Psychology, Free University of Amsterdam
  • Jan Theeuwes
    Cognitive Psychology, Free University of Amsterdam
  • Stefan Van der Stigchel
    Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Helmholtz Institute
Journal of Vision September 2015, Vol.15, 384. doi:10.1167/15.12.384
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      Surya Gayet, Chris Paffen, Artem Belopolsky, Jan Theeuwes, Stefan Van der Stigchel; Fear conditioned visual information is prioritized for visual awareness. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):384. doi: 10.1167/15.12.384.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The present study addresses the question whether visual information that signals threat is prioritized for access to awareness. We combined a fear conditioning procedure with a breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS) task. In this task, participants were presented with high contrast dynamic masks to one eye, and a target grating presented to the other eye (suppression condition) or to the same eye (monocular condition). Participants were asked to report the orientation of the target as soon as it became visible. Throughout the entire experiment, target gratings were surrounded by a blue or red annulus. During the acquisition phase (phase 1), participants passively viewed both monocular and suppression trials, in which one annulus color was repeatedly paired with an electrical shock (from now on the CS+) while the other color was not (CS-). Subsequently, participants completed four blocks of b-CFS trials (phase 2), in which monocular and suppression conditions were intermixed, with CS+ and CS- annuli surrounding the targets. The results revealed that target orientation was reported faster on trials with CS+ annuli than with CS- annuli in the suppression condition. This difference in reaction times reflected shorter suppression durations for CS+ annuli rather than a response bias, as no difference in reaction times emerged between targets surrounded by CS+ or CS- annuli in the monocular condition. This pattern of findings is particularly striking, as (1) participants knew that no shocks would be administered during the b-CFS task, (2) the CS+ and CS- annuli were irrelevant for participants’ behavioral task and (3) participants reported to be unaware of phenomenal differences between monocular and suppression conditions. Taken together, these results demonstrate that visual information that was previously paired with aversive stimulation, and thus signaled threat, is prioritized by the perceptual system such that it more readily breaches the threshold of awareness.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015


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