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Jill Grose-Fifer, Steven Hoover, Andrea Rodrigues, Tina Zottoli; Attentional capture by emotional faces in adolescence. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):114. doi: 10.1167/9.8.114.
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Relatively little is known about how emotional stimuli affect attentional processing during adolescence. Neuroimaging data suggest that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is central to the integration of these processes and the ACC is still maturing in teenagers. A face flanker task that required identification of the emotional expression of a central face when flanked by either congruent or incongruent facial expressions was administered to both adolescents and adults. Performance was also measured on a more traditional letter identification flanker task, where the identification of a central target letter is more difficult when flanked by congruent rather than incongruent letters. Previous research also suggests that for adults, negative faces capture attention more effectively than positive faces. This leads to greater interference for a positive face flanked by negative faces than for a negative face flanked by positive facial expressions. Adolescent performance on face flanker tasks has not been previously described in comparison to adults. However, it has been suggested that adolescents may find emotional information more distracting than adults. Preliminary results show that adolescents in their mid-teens have comparable performances in terms of error rates and reaction times to adults on the letter flanker task. However, they show worse performance on the face flanker task, with more errors and slower reaction times than adults. This suggests that when an emotional demand is added to an attentional task, teenagers perform more poorly than adults. This is likely due to cortical immaturities in frontal lobe circuitry, that fail to adequately over-ride the bottom-up mechanisms associated with identifying negative facial expressions.
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