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Emma Ferneyhough, Damian Stanley, Elizabeth Phelps, Marisa Carrasco; Interaction effects of emotion and attention on contrast sensitivity correlate with measures of anxiety. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):249. doi: 10.1167/10.7.249.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Background: Last year at VSS we showed that faces effectively cue attention, improving contrast sensitivity at a cued location, and impairing sensitivity at an uncued location, compared to distributed cues; however, facial expression had no impact. Some have suggested that anxiety modulates the effects of emotion and attention on performance (e.g., Bar-Haim et al., 2007), which led us to look at individual differences in trait anxiety. Here we investigate whether anxiety influences the interaction of emotion and attention on contrast sensitivity. Method: Non-predictive precues directed exogenous (involuntary) attention to a visual task stimulus. Precues were faces with either neutral or fearful expressions and were presented to the left, right, or both sides (8° eccentricity) of central fixation. On each trial, a target (tilted Gabor) was displayed on one (random) side and a distracter (vertical Gabor) on the other (1.5cpd, 3° Gabors; 4° eccentricity). Attention was thus randomly cued toward the target (valid cue), distracter (invalid cue), or distributed over both locations. Observers discriminated target orientation with contrast-varying stimuli, and completed self-reported measures of anxiety (PANAS: Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988; STAI: Spielberger et al., 1983). Results: We found that emotion significantly interacted with attention in a manner that reflected trait anxiety. Consistent with previous research, distributed-fear cues significantly improved performance compared to distributed-neutral cues. Although valid- and invalid-fear cues did not consistently modulate sensitivity across observers, individual differences in anxiety significantly correlated with this interaction of emotion and attention. The emotion effect (fear minus neutral sensitivity) was negatively correlated with anxiety for valid cues but positively correlated for invalid cues. These results suggest that for observers with increased anxiety the fear cue impairs processing of the nearby stimulus. These findings will be discussed in the context of an ongoing debate regarding the relation of anxiety and attention.
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