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Consciousness and Emotional Facial Expression Recognition: Subliminal/Supraliminal Stimulation Effect on N200 and P300 ERPs

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In this study we analyze whether facial expression recognition is marked by specific event-related potential (ERP) correlates and whether conscious and unconscious elaboration of emotional facial stimuli are qualitatively different processes. ERPs elicited by supraliminal and subliminal (10ms) stimuli were recorded when subjects were viewing emotional facial expressions of four emotions or neutral stimuli. Two ERP effects (N2 and P3) were analyzed in terms of their peak amplitude and latency variations. An emotional specificity was observed for the negative deflection N2, whereas P3 was not affected by the content of the stimulus (emotional or neutral). Unaware information processing proved to be quite similar to aware processing in terms of peak morphology but not of latency. A major result of this research was that unconscious stimulation produced a more delayed peak variation than conscious stimulation did. Also, a more posterior distribution of the ERP was found for N2 as a function of emotional content of the stimulus. On the contrary, cortical lateralization (right/left) was not correlated to conscious/unconscious stimulation. The functional significance of our results is underlined in terms of subliminal effect and emotion recognition. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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