Nonconscious fear conditioning, visceral perception, and the development of gut feelings

  • Katkin E
  • Wiens S
  • Öhman A
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Abstract

When people are presented with backward-masked images of fear-relevant stimuli and only some of these images are paired consistently with electric shocks, they can predict the occurrence of shocks even though they do not consciously know which images they have seen. We postulated that they may use the perception of visceral cues from the conditional fear response to facilitate the prediction of shocks. In this study, ability to detect heartbeats was used to index sensitivity to visceral cues. The results showed that subjects who could detect their heartbeats performed better than chance in predicting whether or not they would receive a shock during the conditioning task. The findings support the notion that hunches, or "gut feelings," are based in part on the perception of visceral cues.

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