Thresholds for detection and awareness of masked facial stimuli.
Heeks F., Azzopardi P.
It has been suggested that perception without awareness can be demonstrated by a dissociation between performance in objective (forced-choice) and subjective (yes-no) tasks, and such dissociations have been reported both for simple stimuli and more complex ones including faces. However, signal detection theory (SDT) indicates that the subjective measures used to assess awareness in such studies can be affected by response bias, which could account for the observed dissociation, and this was confirmed by Balsdon and Azzopardi (2015) using simple visual targets. However, this finding may not apply to all types of stimulus, as the detectability of complex targets such as faces is known to be affected by their configuration as well as by their stimulus energy. We tested this with a comparison of forced-choice and yes-no detection of facial stimuli depicting happy or angry or fearful expressions using a backward masking paradigm, and using SDT methods including correcting for unequal variances in the underlying signal distributions, to measure sensitivity independently of response criterion in 12 normal observers. In 47 out 48 comparisons there was no significant difference between sensitivity (da) in the two tasks: hence, across the range of expressions tested it appears that the configuration of complex stimuli does not enhance detectability independently of awareness. The results imply that, on the basis of psychophysical experiments in normal observers, there is no reason to postulate that performance and awareness are mediated by separate processes.