Amygdala responsivity to high-level social information from unseen faces

Jonathan B. Freeman, Ryan M. Stolier, Zachary A. Ingbretsen, Eric A. Hehman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research shows that the amygdala automatically responds to a face's trustworthiness when a face is clearly visible. However, it is unclear whether the amygdala could evaluate such high-level facial information without a face being consciously perceived. Using a backward masking paradigm, we demonstrate in two functional neuroimaging experiments that the human amygdala is sensitive to subliminal variation in facial trustworthiness. Regions in the amygdala tracked how untrustworthy a face appeared (i.e., negative-linear responses) as well as the overall strength of a face's trustworthiness signal (i.e., nonlinear responses), despite faces not being subjectively seen. This tracking was robust across blocked and event-related designs and both real and computer-generated faces. The findings demonstrate that the amygdala can be influenced by even high-level facial information before that information is consciously perceived, suggesting that the amygdala's processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10573-10581
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 6 2014


  • Amygdala
  • Backward masking
  • Face
  • Social cues
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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