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Steven B. Most, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne, Justin A. Jungé; Dual effects of emotion on perception: Emotional distractors impair selection but enhance consolidation. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):348. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/7.9.348.
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The impact of emotion on perception has received increased attention in recent years, with experiments yielding some discrepant findings. For example, whereas some studies have found that emotional distractors impair target detection (Most et al., 2005), others have found that they enhance sensitivity to targets (Phelps, Ling, & Carrasco, 2006). Reconciling instances where emotional distractors impair or facilitate target detection might best be accomplished by considering the impact of emotional stimuli on different stages of visual processing. For example, according to two-stage models of target detection, when people search through a rapid sequence of stimuli, target detection requires both (1) selection of a target from among distractors and (2) consolidation of the target representation for conscious report (e.g., Chun & Potter, 1995). In our experiments, emotional distractors appeared to have opposite effects on these different stages: selection of targets was impaired, whereas their consolidation was enhanced. In Experiments 1 and 2, emotional distractors retroactively impaired detection of targets appearing 100-ms beforehand but boosted detection of targets appearing 200-ms beforehand. This lag-dependent reversal suggests that if emotional distractors appear while target representations reside within an early visual buffer, having yet to be selected for consolidation, they impair target detection; however, once the window critical for attentional selection has passed, the impact of emotional distractors is observed through enhanced consolidation and hence improved performance. Consistent with this interpretation, follow-up experiments revealed that emotional distractors impaired target processing when participants were required to maintain attentional selection criteria; in contrast, emotional distractors actually helped performance when the need for attentional selection was eliminated. Taken together, these results suggest that emotional distractors activate two processes, perhaps in parallel: one that disrupts attentional selection and another that enhances visual consolidation.
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