This study measured perceptual and electroencephalographic responses to masked pleasant, unpleasant, neutral and sexual words in participants scoring as high defensive (N = 22) or low defensive (N = 30) on the EPQ-L. Six words of each category were presented in random order in ascending durations between 50.1 ms random letter masks. A word identification task designed to elicit impression management (i.e. by requiring participants to say sexual words aloud), preceded a word detection task designed to assess perceptual sensitivity (i.e. by having subjects quietly choose from among words from the same category). Sexual words appeared to elicit impression management, which did not differ between groups. Patterns of detection accuracies for the various emotional word categories differed for high and low defensive participants in a manner consistent with individual differences in unconscious processing of emotional words. Parallel differences emerged in patterns of electroencephalographic α (8-13 Hz) decreases in response to the words, with unconscious effects having a posterior topography.
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