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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 May 24;102(21):7713-7. Epub 2005 May 16.

A direct intracranial record of emotions evoked by subliminal words.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Unité 562, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 49, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, 91401 Orsay Cedex, France.


A classical but still open issue in cognitive psychology concerns the depth of subliminal processing. Can the meaning of undetected words be accessed in the absence of consciousness? Subliminal priming experiments in normal subjects have revealed only small effects whose interpretation remains controversial. Here, we provide a direct demonstration of semantic access for unseen masked words. In three epileptic patients with intracranial electrodes, we recorded brain potentials from the amygdala, a neural structure that responds to fearful or threatening stimuli presented in various modalities, including written words. We show that the subliminal presentation of emotional words modulates the activity of the amygdala at a long latency (>800 ms). Our result indicates that subliminal words can trigger long-lasting cerebral processes, including semantic access to emotional valence.

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