Emotional stimuli can be processed without consciousness. In the current study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to assess whether perceptual load influences non-conscious processing of fearful facial expressions. Perceptual load was manipulated using a letter search task with the target letter presented at the fixation point, while facial expressions were presented peripherally and masked to prevent conscious awareness. The letter string comprised six letters (X or N) that were identical (low load) or different (high load). Participants were instructed to discriminate the letters at fixation or the facial expression (fearful or neutral) in the periphery. Participants were faster and more accurate at detecting letters in the low load condition than in the high load condition. Fearful faces elicited a sustained positivity from 250 ms to 700 ms post-stimulus over fronto-central areas during the face discrimination and low-load letter discrimination conditions, but this effect was completely eliminated during high-load letter discrimination. Our findings imply that non-conscious processing of fearful faces depends on perceptual load, and attentional resources are necessary for non-conscious processing.
Wang, L., Feng, C., Mai, X., Jia, L., Zhu, X., Luo, W., & Luo, Y. J. (2016). The Impact of Perceptual Load on the Non-Conscious Processing of Fearful Faces. PloS One, 11(5), e0154914. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154914