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PLoS One. 2009 Dec 9;4(12):e8207. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008207.

Unconsciously perceived fear in peripheral vision alerts the limbic system: a MEG study.

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INSERM, U821, Lyon, France.



In ecological situations, threatening stimuli often come out from the peripheral vision. Such aggressive messages must trigger rapid attention to the periphery to allow a fast and adapted motor reaction. Several clues converge to hypothesize that peripheral danger presentation can trigger off a fast arousal network potentially independent of the consciousness spot.


In the present MEG study, spatio-temporal dynamics of the neural processing of danger related stimuli were explored as a function of the stimuli position in the visual field. Fearful and neutral faces were briefly presented in the central or peripheral visual field, and were followed by target faces stimuli. An event-related beamformer source analysis model was applied in three time windows following the first face presentations: 80 to 130 ms, 140 to 190 ms, and 210 to 260 ms. The frontal lobe and the right internal temporal lobe part, including the amygdala, reacted as soon as 80 ms of latency to fear occurring in the peripheral vision. For central presentation, fearful faces evoked the classical neuronal activity along the occipito-temporal visual pathway between 140 and 190 ms.


Thus, the high spatio-temporal resolution of MEG allowed disclosing a fast response of a network involving medial temporal and frontal structures in the processing of fear related stimuli occurring unconsciously in the peripheral visual field. Whereas centrally presented stimuli are precisely processed by the ventral occipito-temporal cortex, the related-to-danger stimuli appearing in the peripheral visual field are more efficient to produce a fast automatic alert response possibly conveyed by subcortical structures.

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