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Michael G. Reynolds, Alexandra Frischen, Cory Gerritsen, Daniel Smilek, John D. Eastwood; Emotion in visual search: The selection of affective faces for awareness. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):388. doi: 10.1167/5.8.388.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
During visual search, the time to locate a unique target face is less affected by the number of distractor faces when the target face expresses a negative emotion than when the target is positively valenced. Such preferential guidance by negative content suggests that the emotional valence of the face is processed outside the focus of attention and guides focal attention to the target location. In other words, processing of the emotional content of a face stimulus appears to happen prior to conscious awareness. The current set of experiments investigated further whether performance differences between positive and negative targets are due to a bias in selection of information for awareness rather than a bias in responding to the stimulus after selection for awareness. In Experiment 1, participants identified the emotional valence of a positive or negative target face that was presented among varying numbers of neutral distractor faces. Search slopes for negative faces were shallower relative to search slopes for positive faces, indicating more effective guidance of attention by the negative face. In Experiment 2, the search display was occluded apart from a small search window such that only information presented in the focus of attention could influence performance while eliminating guidance by unattended information. This time, search was much less efficient and the search slopes did not differ for the different emotional expressions. These results support the notion that emotional information is processed prior to awareness and influences allocation of focal attention.
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