To investigate whether facial expression is processed in the absence of conscious awareness, ERPs were recorded in a task in which participants had to identify the expression of masked fearful and neutral target faces. On supraliminal trials (200 ms target duration), in which identification performance was high, a sustained positivity to fearful versus neutral target faces started 140 ms after target face onset. On subliminal trials (8 ms target duration), identification performance was at chance level, but ERPs still showed systematic fear-specific effects. An early positivity to fearful target faces was present but smaller than on supraliminal trials. A subsequent enhanced N2 to fearful faces was only present for subliminal trials. In contrast, a P3 enhancement to fearful faces was observed on supraliminal but not subliminal trials. Results demonstrate rapid emotional expression processing in the absence of awareness
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