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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 21;8(6):e66620. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066620. Print 2013.

Prioritized Detection of Personally Familiar Faces.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Specialistica, Diagnostica e Sperimentale, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy ; Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, United States of America.


We investigated whether personally familiar faces are preferentially processed in conditions of reduced attentional resources and in the absence of conscious awareness. In the first experiment, we used Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) to test the susceptibility of familiar faces and faces of strangers to the attentional blink. In the second experiment, we used continuous flash interocular suppression to render stimuli invisible and measured face detection time for personally familiar faces as compared to faces of strangers. In both experiments we found an advantage for detection of personally familiar faces as compared to faces of strangers. Our data suggest that the identity of faces is processed with reduced attentional resources and even in the absence of awareness. Our results show that this facilitated processing of familiar faces cannot be attributed to detection of low-level visual features and that a learned unique configuration of facial features can influence preconscious perceptual processing.

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