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Jane E. Raymond, Mark J. Fenske, Nikki Westoby; Attention determines affective evaluation of complex stimuli in visual search.. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):827. doi: 10.1167/4.8.827.
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Although the attentional processes mediating visual search are well-studied, little is known about how or whether these processes modulate affective evaluation of recently searched stimuli. Our previous research showed that stimuli are affectively devalued when initially encountered as distractors in a simple two-item localization task compared to stimuli seen as targets, perhaps due to attentional inhibition of stimuli that compete for control over responding. Here we sought to determine if this devaluation effect would still be evident with changes in the number and location of (similar) distractors (as in conventional visual search studies). In contrast to robust distractor devaluation, existing accounts linking perceptual experience and evaluation (e.g., ‘mere exposure’ effects) predict that the additional experience with distractors afforded by increasing their numbers should make their evaluations more positive due to enhanced perceptual fluency. We presented 44 observers with a visual search arrays (4, 8, or 16 items) composed of red or green abstract images and required them to detect and then locate a pre-defined coloured (e.g., red) target in a field of opposite-coloured (e.g., green) distractors. About 2 seconds later, observers evaluated either the previously seen target or one of the previously viewed distractors using a 5-point “cheerfulness” scale. As expected, target detection response times showed a non-significant effect of set size. We found that distractors were significantly devalued relative to targets, by about 0.55 points. Furthermore, this devaluation effect was consistent across set size. These findings suggest that attentional inhibition of distractors elicits significant affective devaluation in spite of differing levels of perceptual experience that may accompany changes in the number of distractors.
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