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Briana Kennedy, Daniel Pearson, David Sutton, Tom Beesley, Steven Most; Affective penetration of vision: Behavioral and eye-tracking evidence that emotion helps shape perception. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1138. doi: 10.1167/16.12.1138.
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It recently has been claimed that no evidence yet supports a role of "top-down" factors, such as emotion, in perceptual processing (Firestone & Scholl, in press). Here, we provide evidence supporting such a role by probing an effect known as "emotion-induced blindness" (EIB) – i.e., the disruption of target detection within an RSVP sequence by emotional distractors. Initially assumed to stem from post-perceptual disruption or competition, EIB appears to be spatially localized, suggestive instead of spatiotemporally driven, perceptual competition between targets and meaningful distractors. When two RSVP streams of stimuli appear simultaneously, emotional distractors primarily impair perception of targets that appear in their same location, not of targets that appear in a different location – opposite the spatial pattern that would be expected if EIB stemmed simply from peripheral attentional selection. However, an alternative explanation may be that this spatial pattern results merely from where participants look during the task (e.g., distractors might cause disruption when fixated, but not be processed otherwise). To disentangle these accounts, we employed gaze-contingent eye-tracking in order to position distractors in the fixated or non-fixated stream. EIB was localized to the distractor location regardless of fixation, consistent with a spatiotemporal competition account. In order to additionally disentangle roles of perceptual competition and memory encoding, participants in a second experiment were required to remember distractors. In this case, emotional distractors disrupted target perception across both streams but this impact was still greater at the distractor location (regardless of fixation), suggesting that the roles of perceptual competition and memory encoding in emotional disruption of target processing are additive. Together, these findings suggest that emotion processing helps shape perception via mechanisms beyond peripheral attentional selection and disruption of memory encoding.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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