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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Nov;11(11):1772-1782. Epub 2016 Jul 12.

Is fear perception special? Evidence at the level of decision-making and subjective confidence.

Koizumi A1,2,3,4, Mobbs D5,6, Lau H7.

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Department of Psychology, Columbia University 406 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Ave MC 5501, New York, NY 10027, USA
US-Japan Brain Research Cooperation Program, National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Japan.
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Tokyo, Japan.
Center for Information and Neural Networks (CiNet), National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, 1-4 Yamadaoka, Suita City, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.
Department of Psychology, Columbia University 406 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Ave MC 5501, New York, NY 10027, USA.
California Institute of Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences, Baxter Hall 1200 E. California Blvd.Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Department of Psychology & Brian Research Institute, UCLA 1285 Franz Hall, Bo 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA.


Fearful faces are believed to be prioritized in visual perception. However, it is unclear whether the processing of low-level facial features alone can facilitate such prioritization or whether higher-level mechanisms also contribute. We examined potential biases for fearful face perception at the levels of perceptual decision-making and perceptual confidence. We controlled for lower-level visual processing capacity by titrating luminance contrasts of backward masks, and the emotional intensity of fearful, angry and happy faces. Under these conditions, participants showed liberal biases in perceiving a fearful face, in both detection and discrimination tasks. This effect was stronger among individuals with reduced density in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region linked to perceptual decision-making. Moreover, participants reported higher confidence when they accurately perceived a fearful face, suggesting that fearful faces may have privileged access to consciousness. Together, the results suggest that mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex contribute to making fearful face perception special.


dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLFPC); fearful face perception; metacognition; perceptual decision-making; voxel-based morphometry (VBM)

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