Visual input that signals threat is inherently relevant to behavior. Accordingly, it has been demonstrated that threatening stimuli elicit faster behavioral responses than non-threatening stimuli. Considering that awareness is a prerequisite for performing demanding tasks and guiding novel behavior, visual input can be more adequately acted upon once it reaches awareness. From this, we hypothesized that threatening visual input would gain faster access to awareness than non-threatening visual input.
In the present study, we associated one of two basic visual stimuli, that were devoid of intrinsic relevance (colored annuli), with aversive stimulation (i.e., electric shocks) following a classical fear conditioning procedure. In the subsequent test phase no more electric shocks were delivered, and a breaking continuous flash suppression task was used to measure how fast these stimuli would access awareness. The results reveal that stimuli that were previously paired with an electric shock break through suppression faster than comparable stimuli that were not paired with an electric shock.