Unconscious Affect Influences First Impressions and Physiology

Abstract

In this study, we used Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) to determine if unseen, affective faces influenced trait ratings (trustworthiness, reliability, competence) of perceived, neutral faces. We also recorded participants’ physiological responses to determine if unseen, affective information influenced their body signals. We hypothesized that participants would rate neutral faces paired with unseen, smiling faces higher in positive traits, as well as that they would rate neutral faces paired with unseen, scowling faces lower in positive traits. We also predicted that we would see differences in body signals when viewing affective stimuli. We found a significant difference when neutral faces were paired with unseen, smiling faces in that participants rated the faces as more trustworthy. We also saw a significant difference when neutral faces were paired with unseen, scowling faces in that participants rated the faces as less trustworthy. We found no significant differences in ratings of reliability or competence when perceived, neutral faces were paired with unseen, affective stimuli. In terms of physiological recordings, we saw significant differences in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) among participants, such that mean RSA was higher when participants viewed unseen, scowling faces. We also saw a significant difference in participant heart interbeat intervals (IBI), such that IBI’s were shortest when viewing unseen, scowling faces and longest when viewing unseen, smiling faces. Our findings add to the literature on the relationship between affect and perception, as well as give insight into the relationship between affect and physiology.