A new paper has been accepted in Consciousness and Cognition.
Unconscious Processing of Coarse Visual Information during Anticipatory Threat
Rapid detection of threats has been proposed to rely on automatic processing of their coarse visual features. However, it remains unclear whether such a mechanism is restricted to detection of threat cues, or whether it reflects a broader sensitivity to even neutral coarse visual information features during states of threat. We used a backward masking task in which participants discriminated the orientation of subliminally presented low (3cpd) and high (6cpd) spatial frequency gratings, under threat (of shock) and safe conditions. Visual awareness of the gratings was assessed objectively using an additional localization task. When participants were unaware of the gratings, above chance and improved discrimination of low-spatial frequency gratings was observed under threat compared to safe trials. These findings demonstrate unconscious processing of neutral coarse visual information during threat state, supporting the view that automatic threat detection may rely on a general facilitation of coarse features irrespective of threat content.