Auditory affective processing requires awareness

Mikko Lähteenmäki*, Jaakko Kauramäki, Disa A. Sauter, Lauri Nummenmaa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Recent work has challenged the previously widely accepted belief that affective processing does not require awareness and can be carried out with more limited resources than semantic processing. This debate has focused exclusively on visual perception, even though evidence from both human and animal studies suggests that existence for nonconscious affective processing would be physiologically more feasible in the auditory system. Here we contrast affective and semantic processing of nonverbal emotional vocalizations under different levels of awareness in three experiments, using explicit (twoalternative forced choice masked affective and semantic categorization tasks, Experiments 1 and 2) and implicit (masked affective and semantic priming, Experiment 3) measures. Identical stimuli and design were used in the semantic and affective tasks. Awareness was manipulated by altering stimulus-mask signal-to-noise ratio during continuous auditory masking. Stimulus awareness was measured on each trial using a four-point perceptual awareness scale. In explicit tasks, neither affective nor semantic categorization could be performed in the complete absence of awareness, while both tasks could be performed above chance level when stimuli were consciously perceived. Semantic categorization was faster than affective evaluation. When the stimuli were partially perceived, semantic categorization accuracy exceeded affective evaluation accuracy. In implicit tasks neither affective nor semantic priming occurred in the complete absence of awareness, whereas both affective and semantic priming emerged when participants were aware of the primes. We conclude that auditory semantic processing is faster than affective processing, and that both affective and semantic auditory processing are dependent on awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-69
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Affective priming
  • Affective recognition
  • Auditory awareness

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    Lähteenmäki, M., Kauramäki, J., Sauter, D. A., & Nummenmaa, L. (2019). Auditory affective processing requires awareness. EMOTION, 19(1), 53-69.