Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Face-Sex Categorization Is Better above Fixation Than Below: Evidence from the Reach-to-Touch Paradigm

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Face-Sex Categorization Is Better above Fixation Than Below: Evidence from the Reach-to-Touch Paradigm

Article excerpt

Published online: 24 April 2014

(C> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract The masked congruence effect (MCE) elicited by nonconsciously presented faces in a sex-categorization task has recently been shown to be sensitive to the effects of attention. Here we investigated how spatial location along the vertical meridian modulates the MCE for face-sex categorization. Participants made left and right reaching movements to classify the sex of a target face that appeared either immediately above or below central fixation. The target was preceded by a masked prime face that was either congment (i.e., same sex) or incon- graent (i.e., opposite sex) with the target. In the reach-to-touch paradigm, participants typically classify targets more efficiently (i.e., their finger heads in the correct direction earlier and faster) on congment than on incongment trials. We observed an upper- hemifield advantage in the time course of this MCE, such that primes affected target classification sooner when they were presented in the upper visual field (UVF) rather than the lower visual field (LVF). Moreover, we observed a differential benefit of attention between the vertical hemifields, in that the MCE was dependent on the appropriate allocation of spatial attention in the LVF, but not the UVF. Taken together, these behavioral findings suggest that the processing of faces qua faces (e.g., sex- categorization) is more robust in upper-hemifield locations.

Keywords Face processing * Upper visual field Location variance * Priming * Attention

In masked priming paradigms, a prime stimulus presented below the threshold of conscious awareness can influence the processing of a subsequent visible target, such that re- sponse times (RTs) are typically faster when the prime-target pair are congment (i.e., associated with the same response). Such masked congruence effects (MCE) have been repeatedly demonstrated to be contingent upon the allocation of attention. For example, the MCE in number-comparison tasks (Naccache, Blandin, & Dehaene, 2002) and semantic catego- rization tasks (Fabre, Lemaire, & Grainger, 2007) has been shown to depend critically upon temporal attention to the prime. Focused spatial attention to the prime also appears to be a prerequisite for the MCE to emerge in the context of semantic categorization of words (Lien, Ruthruff, Kouchi, & Lachter, 2010) and picture stimuli (Finkbeiner & Palermo, 2009). However, whereas these congruence priming studies using word, number, and picture stimuli have suggested that nonconscious information processing depends on attention to proceed (Lachter, Forster, & Ruthruff, 2004), the MCE elicit- ed by face stimuli contradicts this notion, occurring even when attention is directed away from the prime. Finkbeiner and Palermo showed that sex information carried by a non- conscious prime face is capable of modulating the subsequent sex categorization of a visible target face, regardless of wheth- er spatial attention is captured to the prime's location or elsewhere (Finkbeiner & Palermo, 2009). That the primes in this study did not require attention to influence target process- ing would certainly suggest that the processes underlying nonconscious sex information processing are robust. It does not imply, however, that these processes are beyond the influ- ence of top down factors such as attention. In fact, we have recently demonstrated that although masked faces do produce congruence priming effects even in the near absence of atten- tion, the time course of this MCE is sensitive to manipulations of attention, in that attended primes yield earlier congruence effects than do unattended primes (Quek & Finkbeiner, 2013).

Having established that the rapid processing of face-sex information under masked conditions is sensitive to manipu- lations of spatial attention, we wanted to pursue the interesting and as yet unaddressed possibility that the visual system's ability to process nonconscious sex information could be affected by the spatial position of the face. …

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