Minimum presentation time for masked facial expression discrimination

Maarten Milders, Arash Sahraie, Sarah Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

56 Citations (Scopus)


Backward masking is a popular method of preventing awareness of facial expressions, but concerns have been expressed as to the effectiveness of masking in previous research, which may have resulted in unjustified claims of unconscious processing. We examined the minimum presentation time for discrimination of fearful, angry, happy and neutral faces in a backward masking task using both objective sensitivity measures, based on signal detection analysis, and subjective awareness ratings. Results from two experiments showed for all expressions the mean sensitivity and the sensitivity scores of most individual participants were above chance at presentation times of 20 ms. Awareness ratings for happy, fearful and angry also exceeded baseline ratings from 20 ms onwards. Overall sensitivity in both experiments was greatest for happy expressions, which is an agreement with previous reports. The results support the possibility of incomplete masking in earlier studies that used masking to prevent awareness of facial expressions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-82
Number of pages20
JournalCognition & Emotion
Issue number1
Early online date14 Dec 2007
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • emotional faces
  • angry faces
  • amygdala responses
  • backward-masking
  • fearful faces
  • perception
  • awareness
  • attention
  • threshold
  • stimuli


Dive into the research topics of 'Minimum presentation time for masked facial expression discrimination'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this