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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2014, Vol. 26, No. 11, Pages 2564-2577
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00671)
@ 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Unseen Fearful Faces Influence Face Encoding: Evidence from ERPs in Hemianopic Patients
Article PDF (1.05 MB)

Visual threat-related signals are not only processed via a cortical geniculo-striatal pathway to the amygdala but also via a subcortical colliculo-pulvinar-amygdala pathway, which presumably mediates implicit processing of fearful stimuli. Indeed, hemianopic patients with unilateral damage to the geniculo-striatal pathway have been shown to respond faster to seen happy faces in their intact visual field when unseen fearful faces were concurrently presented in their blind field [Bertini, C., Cecere, R., & Làdavas, E. I am blind, but I “see” fear. Cortex, 49, 985–993, 2013]. This behavioral facilitation in the presence of unseen fear might reflect enhanced processing of consciously perceived faces because of early activation of the subcortical pathway for implicit fear perception, which possibly leads to a modulation of cortical activity. To test this hypothesis, we examined ERPs elicited by fearful and happy faces presented to the intact visual field of right and left hemianopic patients, whereas fearful, happy, or neutral faces were concurrently presented in their blind field. Results showed that the amplitude of the N170 elicited by seen happy faces was selectively increased when an unseen fearful face was concurrently presented in the blind field of right hemianopic patients. These results suggest that when the geniculo-striate visual pathway is lesioned, the rapid and implicit processing of threat signals can enhance facial encoding. Notably, the N170 modulation was only observed in left-lesioned patients, favoring the hypothesis that implicit subcortical processing of fearful signals can influence face encoding only when the right hemisphere is intact.