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Jane Raymond, Anthony Brennan-Craddock; Irrelevant emotional content in working memory biases visual attention. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):901. doi: 10.1167/13.9.901.
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Some Previous studies have reported that non-emotional, irrelevant information held in visual working memory (WM) can bias selective attention. We asked whether irrelevant emotional content in WM might similarly modulate putative attentional biases to threat stimuli in a simple search task where emotional content is irrelevant. We created a WM ‘sandwich’ task comprising three displays (D). First, (D1) a single face photo (one of 3 possible faces) expressing either anger or happiness was presented (500 ms). Then, 1200 ms later, (D2) two schematic faces (one happy, one angry), each with a short central vertical or horizontal line (‘nose’) and a different coloured frame were presented (200 ms). Lastly, (D3) a menu of three neutral face photos was shown. The WM task was to remember D1’s identity and to select it correctly from D3. The search task (presented during WM maintenance) was to report (by speeded key press) whether the ‘nose’ in the target schematic face (pre-designated by frame colour) was vertical or horizontal. Target faces were equally likely to be happy or angry. Threat biases predict faster response times (RT) to D2 when targets are angry versus happy. A control group viewed the same display sequence but instead identified D1 immediately (prior to D2) and made no response to D3, eliminating the WM component but controlling for emotional priming of D1 on D2. (N=28 in each experiment.) When a happy face identity was stored in WM, search RT revealed the expected threat bias (17 ms, p <.02). However, when an angry face identity was stored in WM, this bias was eliminated showing that emotional WM content can modulate attentional priorities. The control group showed faster RTs than the WM group, no effect of emotional priming, and no threat bias. Positive WM content appears to enhance attentional bias to threat.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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