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Journal Article

Rapid fear detection relies on high spatial frequencies

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Stein, T., Seymour, K., Hebart, M. N., & Sterzer, P. (2014). Rapid fear detection relies on high spatial frequencies. Psychological Science, 25(2), 566-574. doi:10.1177/0956797613512509.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-38FF-E
Signals of threat—such as fearful faces—are processed with priority and have privileged access to awareness. This fear advantage is commonly believed to engage a specialized subcortical pathway to the amygdala that bypasses visual cortex and processes predominantly low-spatial-frequency information but is largely insensitive to high spatial frequencies. We tested visual detection of low- and high-pass-filtered fearful and neutral faces under continuous flash suppression and sandwich masking, and we found consistently that the fear advantage was specific to high spatial frequencies. This demonstrates that rapid fear detection relies not on low- but on high-spatial-frequency information—indicative of an involvement of cortical visual areas. These findings challenge the traditional notion that a subcortical pathway to the amygdala is essential for the initial processing of fear signals and support the emerging view that the cerebral cortex is crucial for the processing of ecologically relevant signals.