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Michael Tuller, Jeannine Pinto; Effects of anxiety on attention and visual memory. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):389. doi: 10.1167/5.8.389.
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An increasing body of literature suggests that affective processing may influence basic visual processing. For example, Anderson and Phelps (2001) found that, in an attentional blind paradigm, normals detected words with negative content (e.g., murder) more often than did a patient with amygdala damage. Consistent with this result, Gupta (2001) reported that arousal alters flicker fusion thresholds. MacLeod & Mathews (1988) found that anxiety-prone individuals fixate longer on negative words. The tasks used in these studies typically required only focal spatial attention. Less is known about the influence of affect on the perception of complex scenes. Research on visual attention and memory, employing change detection paradigms, provides a means of examining this issue. Studies of change detection show that internal representations of visual scenes are incomplete. Factors such as knowledge (Beck, Angelone, & Levin, in press) and social salience (Simons & Levin, 1998) appear to influence whether an observer attends to, encodes, and recalls an element of a visual scene. We used this paradigm to examine whether anxiety-proneness and immediate arousal influence the detection of anomalous changes in a complex scene. We constructed a mock promotional video in which we included 8 anomalous changes to objects and people. Participants with high or low anxiety-proneness, as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger, 1983), viewed the 5-min video and subsequently reported any unusual changes they noticed. Preliminary analyses show that anxiety influences the detection of changes. In particular, regression analyses show a negative linear relationship between levels of anxiety and number of changes detected. Individuals with higher levels of anxiety report seeing fewer changes than do individuals with lower levels of anxiety. Such interactions between affective and visual processing have implications for such domains as eyewitness testimony.
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