Brain Imaging Meeting

Dear Colleagues,

we would like to cordially invite you to the upcoming Brain Imaging Meeting organized by Laboratory of Brain Imaging (LOBI) and Laboratory of Language Neurobiology (LLN).
The seminar will take place on Wednesday 16.02.2022 at 2.30 PM, via google meet platform under the link:

During the meeting Łucja Doradzińska, Msc from LOBI will present a talk entitled:
“Awareness, attention, and threats - exploring the limits of unconscious fear reaction”

The ability to quickly and effectively react in the face of danger is crucial for survival in a complex, unpredictable environment. Therefore, it has been proposed that reaction to threatening stimuli might be initiated already on the unconscious stage of perception. While such unconscious reactions were shown to cause nonspecific arousal, it is not known whether specific prioritization of a fear-related stimulus can be observed without awareness. In the present study we investigated the ability of invisible signals of threat to selectively capture attention and engage cognitive processing. Participants (N = 42) were presented with images of faces expressing either fear or a neutral emotional state. Faces were arranged in pairs and displayed for 16 ms. In half of the trials visibility of face images was suppressed by a backward mask. Participants performed two tasks: in one of them faces were task-relevant, in the other one they served for task-irrelevant distractors. EEG signal was recorded during the procedure and event related potentials (ERP) were analyzed to track the neural response to face stimuli across processing stages. We found that unconsciously perceived fearful faces modulated amplitude of the face-specific N170 component, but did not affect ERP makers of attentional prioritization (P2, N2 components), selective attention capture (N2pc), attention engagement (SPCN), or higher order cognitive processing (P3). Importantly, fearful facial expressions did evoke automatic selective attention capture (N2pc) as well as task-related attentional engagement (SPCN), and cognitive processing (P3) in the conscious condition. Thus, our results demonstrate that while signals of threat can be encoded outside of awareness, they do not possess the ability to unconsciously capture or engage attention. Obtained results contribute to the discussion on subliminal origin of fear reactions, and on the capabilities and limitations of unconscious processing.

See you there!
Brain Imaging Meeting Team

Date of publication
9 February 2022
Date of event