The danger of interpreting detection differences between image categories: A brief comment on “Mind the snake: Fear detection relies on low spatial frequencies” (Gomes, Soares, Silva, & Silva, 2018).

Using breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS; a perceptual suppression technique), Gomes, Soares, Silva, and Silva (2018) showed that human observers have an advantage in detecting images of snakes (constituting an evolutionarily old threat) over birds. In their study, images of snakes and birds were filtered to contain either coarse-scale or fine-grained information. The preferential detection of snakes relied on coarse-scale (rather than fine-grained) information, which was taken as support for the existence of an evolutionarily old subcortical pathway dedicated to snake detection. Here, we raise the concern that images of snakes and birds inherently differ in their visual characteristics, which can strongly affect detection times in b-CFS. Images of snakes, for instance, have a larger perimeter-to-surface ratio than images of birds. Importantly, these visual characteristics are not snake specific, as they are shared with many nonthreatening object categories. To illustrate this point, we compared detection times between images of bicycles and cars—nonthreatening image categories that differ in visual characteristics but for which detection is unlikely to capitalize on an evolutionarily old dedicated subcortical pathway. Observers exhibited an advantage for detecting bicycles over cars. Mirroring the snake–bird differences reported in Gomes et al., this advantage was driven by the coarse-scale (rather than fine-grained) information in the images. Hence, differences in visual characteristics between two nonthreatening, semantically matched stimulus categories suffice to produce the exact same pattern of findings as observed with snakes versus birds. We conclude that spatial frequency-specific detection differences in b-CFS cannot be unequivocally attributed to differences in processing pathways. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)