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Cogn Emot. 2013;27(7):1153-67. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2013.774264. Epub 2013 Jul 4.

A dissociation between detection and identification of phobic stimuli: unconscious perception?

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a Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Psychology , SUNY/Westchester and Purchase College , Westchester , NY , USA.

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  • Cogn Emot. 2013;27(7):i.


A psychophysical paradigm for investigating unconscious perception was used to test the hypothesis of dissociation between detection and identification of phobic stimuli. Spider-phobic and non-phobic participants were presented with masked images of spiders and flowers and an equal number of control stimuli in a random sequence. After each masked stimulus was flashed, participants first reported whether or not an object was presented. Then they identified each stimulus as either a spider or a flower, regardless of their prior detection response. Phobic participants identified both detected and undetected spiders better than chance, as assessed by two measures of response bias. They did not exhibit dissociation between detection and identification for flowers. Non-phobic participants did not exhibit detection-identification dissociation for either spiders or flowers. These results are consistent with the interpretation that phobic individuals unconsciously perceive their feared stimulus, and constitute the first direct demonstration of such for emotional stimuli.

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