Processing of invisible social cues

Consciousness and Cognition 22 (3):765-770 (2013)
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Successful interactions between people are dependent on rapid recognition of social cues. We investigated whether head direction – a powerful social signal – is processed in the absence of conscious awareness. We used continuous flash interocular suppression to render stimuli invisible and compared the reaction time for face detection when faces were turned towards the viewer and turned slightly away. We found that faces turned towards the viewer break through suppression faster than faces that are turned away, regardless of eye direction. Our results suggest that detection of a face with attention directed at the viewer occurs even in the absence of awareness of that face. While previous work has demonstrated that stimuli that signal threat are processed without awareness, our data suggest that the social relevance of a face, defined more broadly, is evaluated in the absence of awareness



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