Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our working memory modulates our conscious access to suppressed threatening information.

Our processing of emotional information is susceptible to working memory (WM) modulations - emotional faces trigger much stronger responses in the fronto-thalamic occipital network when they match an emotional word held in WM than when they do not. Liu et al. show that WM tasks can also influence the nonconscious processing of emotional signals. Their explanation of the procedure used:
We used a modified version of the delayed-match-to-sample paradigm. Specifically, participants were instructed to keep a face (either fearful or neutral) in WM while performing a target-detection task. The target, another face with a new identity (fearful or neutral), was suppressed from awareness utilizing continuous flash suppression. In this technique, the target is monocularly presented and hidden from visual awareness by simultaneously presenting dynamic noise to the other eye. We measured the time it took for the suppressed face to emerge from suppression. We specifically tested whether faces would emerge from suppression more quickly if they matched the emotional valence of WM contents than if they did not.
Here is their abstract:
Previous research has demonstrated that emotional information processing can be modulated by what is being held in working memory (WM). Here, we showed that such content-based WM effects can occur even when the emotional information is suppressed from conscious awareness. Using the delayed-match-to-sample paradigm in conjunction with continuous flash suppression, we found that suppressed threatening (fearful and angry) faces emerged from suppression faster when they matched the emotional valence of WM contents than when they did not. This effect cannot be explained by perceptual priming, as it disappeared when the faces were only passively viewed and not held in WM. Crucially, such an effect is highly specific to threatening faces but not to happy or neutral faces. Our findings together suggest that WM can modulate nonconscious emotion processing, which highlights the functional association between nonconsciously triggered emotional processes and conscious emotion representation.

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