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Psychol Sci. 2014 Feb;25(2):349-57. doi: 10.1177/0956797613503175. Epub 2013 Dec 6.

Nonconscious emotional activation colors first impressions: a regulatory role for conscious awareness.

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  • 11Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Emotions can color people's attitudes toward unrelated objects in the environment. Existing evidence suggests that such emotional coloring is particularly strong when emotion-triggering information escapes conscious awareness. But is emotional reactivity stronger after nonconscious emotional provocation than after conscious emotional provocation, or does conscious processing specifically change the association between emotional reactivity and evaluations of unrelated objects? In this study, we independently indexed emotional reactivity and coloring as a function of emotional-stimulus awareness to disentangle these accounts. Specifically, we recorded skin-conductance responses to spiders and fearful faces, along with subsequent preferences for novel neutral faces during visually aware and unaware states. Fearful faces increased skin-conductance responses comparably in both stimulus-aware and stimulus-unaware conditions. Yet only when visual awareness was precluded did skin-conductance responses to fearful faces predict decreased likability of neutral faces. These findings suggest a regulatory role for conscious awareness in breaking otherwise automatic associations between physiological reactivity and evaluative emotional responses.


consciousness; emotions; individual differences; subliminal perception

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