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Briana Kennedy, Steven Most; Proactive deprioritization of emotional distractors enhances target perception. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1344. doi: 10.1167/15.12.1344.
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In the competition for perceptual priority, emotional stimuli often dominate, with one result being an impaired ability to report non-emotional targets that appear in close spatiotemporal proximity. Some evidence suggests that priority can shift in favor of targets when people are given detailed information about the targets (thereby enabling more effective preparatory visualization; Most, Chun, Widders, & Zald, 2005). But can people achieve a similar result by proactively deprioritizing emotional distractors when forewarned that they will appear? To assess this possibility, we tested whether participants could overcome “emotion-induced blindness” when forewarned about the nature of the distractor. On each trial, participants searched for one target (a rotated picture) presented within a rapid serial visual stream of upright images. Also within each stream, a high-arousal negative, high-arousal positive, or neutral distractor could precede the target by either 200- or 400-msec. At the start of half of the trials, participants were informed which kind of distractor would appear on that trial; on the other half, they received no such information. Results revealed that the provision of distractor information significantly improved target perception following both negative and positive distractors at the early lag, and following negative distractors at the later lag. Based on prior findings that individuals with depression have difficulty applying proactive control (Vanderhasselt et al., 2014), we further probed whether individual differences in depression modulated this effect; we found that those with high depression scores exhibited the greatest improvement when trials were preceded by information about the distractor. In sum, people can give targets a competitive edge in perceptual processing by proactively deprioritizing emotional distractors, but there may be predictable differences in the effectiveness of such a strategy.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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