Conscious awareness is necessary for processing race and gender information from faces

Ido Amihai, Leon Deouell, Shlomo Bentin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Previous studies suggested that emotions can be correctly interpreted from facial expressions in the absence of conscious awareness of the face. Our goal was to explore whether subordinate information about a face's gender and race could also become available without awareness of the face. Participants classified the race or the gender of unfamiliar faces that were ambiguous with regard to these dimensions. The ambiguous faces were preceded by face-images that unequivocally represented gender and race, rendered consciously invisible by simultaneous continuous-flash-suppression. The classification of ambiguous faces was biased away from the category of the adaptor only when it was consciously visible. The duration of subjective visibility correlated with the aftereffect strength. Moreover, face identity was consequential only if consciously perceived. These results suggest that while conscious awareness is not needed for basic level categorization, it is needed for subordinate categorization. Emotional information might be unique in this respect.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant RO1-64458 to S.B. We thank Liron Levin for programming the experiment and Shir Ben Zvi for skillful assistance in testing participants.


  • Conscious awareness
  • Continuous-flash-suppression
  • Face aftereffects
  • Face processing
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Subordinate categorization


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