Get access

Unmasking emotion: Exposure duration and emotional engagement


  • We thank Roberto Ceccanti, Rossella Cardinale, Roberta Amaduzzi, Michela Rendano, Chiara Barbarino, and Cristina Angeloni for helping with data collection.

Address reprint requests to: Maurizio Codispoti, Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat, 5, 40127 Bologna, Italy. E-mail:


Effects of exposure duration on emotional reactivity were investigated in two experiments that parametrically varied the duration of exposure to affective pictures from 25–6000 ms in the presence or absence of a visual mask. Evaluative, facial, autonomic, and cortical responses were measured. Results demonstrated that, in the absence of a visual mask (Experiment 1), emotional content modulated evaluative ratings, cortical, autonomic, and facial changes even with very brief exposures, and there was little evidence that emotional engagement increased with longer exposure. When information persistence was reduced by a visual mask (Experiment 2), differences as a function of hedonic content were absent for all measures when exposure duration was 25 ms but statistically reliable when exposure duration was 80 ms. Between 25–80 ms, individual differences in discriminability were critical in observing affective reactions to masked pictures.