Target visibility and visual awareness modulate amygdala responses to fearful faces.
The goals of the present study were twofold. First, we wished to investigate the neural correlates of aware and unaware emotional face perception after characterizing each subject's behavioral performance via signal detection theory methods. Second, we wished to investigate the extent to which amygdala responses to fearful faces depend on the physical characteristics of the stimulus independently of the percept. We show that amygdala responses depend on visual awareness. Under conditions in which subjects were not aware of fearful faces flashed for 33 ms, no differential activation was observed in the amygdala. On the other hand, differential activation was observed for 67 ms fearful targets that the subjects could reliably detect. When trials were divided into hits, misses, correct rejects, and false alarms, we show that target visibility is an important factor in determining amygdala responses to fearful faces. Taken together, our results further challenge the view that amygdala responses occur automatically.