Skin conductance responses to masked conditioned stimuli: Phylogenetic/ontogenetic factors versus direction of threat?

A Flykt, F Esteves, A Öhman: Skin conductance responses to masked conditioned stimuli: Phylogenetic/ontogenetic factors versus direction of threat?. In: Biological Psychology, 74 (3), pp. 328–336, 2007, ISSN: 03010511.

Abstract

Evolutionarily old threat stimuli are likely to require less conscious information processing than threat stimuli of a more recent date. To test this proposal two differential conditioning experiments, with biological threat stimuli (e.g. snakes) in half the groups and cultural threat stimuli (e.g. guns) in the other half, were conducted. The conditioned (CS+) and the control (CS−) stimuli were backward masked during the extinction phase to prevent conscious recognition. The differential skin conductance responding for both biological and cultural threat stimuli survived the masking procedure when the conditioned stimuli were directed towards the participants (Experiment 1), but for neither type of CS when stimuli were not directed towards the participants (Experiment 2). These findings are discussed in relation to the previous finding by Öhman and co-workers and in relation to imminence of threat.