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Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


The structure of the mask stimulus is crucial in backward masking studies and we recently demonstrated such an effect when masking faces. Specifically, we showed that activity of the amygdala is increased to fearful facial expressions masked with neutral faces and decreased to fearful expressions masked with a pattern mask—but critically both masked conditions discriminated fearful expressions from happy expressions. Given this finding, we sought to test whether masked fearful eye whites would produce a similar profile of amygdala response in a face vs non-face context. During functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning sessions, 30 participants viewed fearful or happy eye whites masked with either neutral faces or pattern images. Results indicated amygdala activity was increased to fearful vs happy eye whites in the face mask condition, but decreased to fearful vs happy eye whites in the pattern mask condition—effectively replicating and expanding our previous report. Our data support the idea that the amygdala is responsive to fearful eye whites, but that the nature of this activity observed in a backward masking design depends on the mask stimulus.