No Impact of Affective Person Knowledge on Visual Awareness: Evidence From Binocular Rivalry and Continuous Flash Suppression

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Stimuli with intrinsic emotional value, like emotional faces, and stimuli associated with reward and punishment are often prioritized in visual awareness relative to neutral stimuli. Recently, Anderson, Siegel, Bliss-Moreau, and Barrett (2011) demonstrated that simply associating a face with affective knowledge can also influence visual awareness. Using a binocular rivalry task (BR), where a face was shown to one eye and a house to the other, they found that faces paired with negative versus neutral and positive behaviors dominated visual awareness. We were interested in whether faces associated with negative information would also be capable of reaching awareness more quickly in the first place. To test this, we set out to replicate Anderson and colleagues’ finding and to examine whether it would extend to breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS), a technique where a dynamic mask shown to one eye initially suppresses the stimulus shown to the other eye. Participants completed a learning task followed by BR and b-CFS tasks, in counterbalanced order. Across both tasks, faces associated with negative behaviors were treated no differently from faces associated with neutral or positive behaviors. However, faces associated with any type of behavior were prioritized in awareness over novel faces. These findings indicate that while familiarity influences conscious perception, the influence of affective person knowledge on visual awareness is more circumscribed than previously thought.

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