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Helene L. Gauchou, Ronald A. Rensink; Stress and Visual Attention. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):918. doi: 10.1167/12.9.918.
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© 2015 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Previous studies have obtained contradictory conclusions regarding the effect of stress on visual attention. Some have reported that stress narrows attentional focus (Callaway and Dembo, 1958); others have reported that stress causes a broadening of attention (Braunstein-Bercovitz, 2003). To help resolve this situation, this study assessed the effect of mild stress on visual search. In a first experiment, two different conditions were used: short line among long lines, and long line among short lines. Prior to each task participants performed either easy (low stress) or difficult (high stress) math tasks (and were told that a debriefing (low stress) or a videotaped interview (high stress) would follow the experiment. The Short Stress State Questionnaire (Helton, 2004) measured stress induction effectiveness. Results show no difference in accuracy for different stress levels, but significantly faster response times and lower search slopes for the high-stress condition. In a second experiment using the same method we compared the effect of stress on two different tasks: conjunction search and feature search (similar to experiment 1). For the feature search task results show no difference in accuracy for different stress levels but significantly lower search slopes for the high-stress condition; For the conjunction search task, accuracy, response times and search slopes do not differ accross stress levels. The findings support the hypothesis of a broadening effect of stress on visual attention.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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