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Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry: volitional choices to act or inhibit are modulated by subliminal perception of emotional faces

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posted on 2023-06-13, 15:02 authored by Jim Parkinson, Sarah Garfinkel, Hugo CritchleyHugo Critchley, Zoltan DienesZoltan Dienes, Anil SethAnil Seth
Volitional action and self-control—feelings of acting according to one’s own intentions and in being control of one’s own actions—are fundamental aspects of human conscious experience. However, it is unknown whether high-level cognitive control mechanisms are affected by socially salient but nonconscious emotional cues. In this study, we manipulated free choice decisions to act or withhold an action by subliminally presenting emotional faces: In a novel version of the Go/NoGo paradigm, participants made speeded button-press responses to Go targets, withheld responses to NoGo targets, and made spontaneous, free choices to execute or withhold the response for Choice targets. Before each target, we presented emotional faces, backwards masked to render them nonconscious. In Intentional trials, subliminal angry faces made participants more likely to voluntarily withhold the action, whereas fearful and happy faces had no effects. In a second experiment, the faces were made supraliminal, which eliminated the effects of angry faces on volitional choices. A third experiment measured neural correlates of the effects of subliminal angry faces on intentional choice using EEG. After replicating the behavioural results found in Experiment 1, we identified a frontal-midline theta component—associated with cognitive control processes—which is present for volitional decisions, and is modulated by subliminal angry faces. This suggests a mechanism whereby subliminally presented “threat” stimuli affect conscious control processes. In summary, nonconscious perception of angry faces increases choices to inhibit, and subliminal influences on volitional action are deep seated and ecologically embedded.


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Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience




Springer Verlag





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  • Psychology Publications

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  • Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science Publications

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