Unseen fearful faces promote amygdala guidance of attention

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Little is known about the network of brain regions activated prior to explicit awareness of emotionally salient social stimuli. We investigated this in a functional magnetic resonance imaging study using a technique that combined elements of binocular rivalry and motion flash suppression in order to prevent awareness of fearful faces and houses. We found increased left amygdala and fusiform gyrus activation for fearful faces compared to houses, despite suppression from awareness. Psychophysiological interaction analyses showed that amygdala activation was associated with task-specific (fearful faces greater than houses) modulation of an attention network, including bilateral pulvinar, bilateral insula, left frontal eye fields, left intraparietal sulcus and early visual cortex. Furthermore, we report an unexpected main effect of increased left parietal cortex activation associated with suppressed fearful faces compared to suppressed houses. This parietal finding is the first report of increased dorsal stream activation for a social object despite suppression, which suggests that information can reach parietal cortex for a class of emotionally salient social objects, even in the absence of awareness.

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