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Reiko Graham, Janine Harlow, Roque Mendez; Individual differences in attentional distraction and facilitation by emotional faces. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):495. doi: 10.1167/9.8.495.
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Research suggests that individual differences in personality variables like anxiety (e.g., Fox et al., 2007) and self-esteem (e.g., Wilkowski et al., 2008) have a powerful effect on attentional processes, especially when emotional faces are used as stimuli. The current study (N = 78) examined relationships between empathy, self-esteem, self-monitoring, state and trait anxiety and attentional distraction/facilitation to targets flanked by happy, fearful, and angry facial distractors (with direct gaze). Overall, significant facilitation was observed for happy faces relative to neutral and angry faces, supporting the notion that happy faces elicit approach-related behaviors (e.g. Canli et al., 2002). No significant differences between distraction/facilitation were found for angry and fearful faces relative to neutral faces. However, there was considerable variability in distraction/facilitation across individuals and emotional expressions. Regression analyses were conducted to determine if distraction/facilitation to different emotional expressions was related to individual differences in personality variables. Facilitation for happy faces was associated with greater perspective taking scores and higher levels of state anxiety. In contrast, distraction/facilitation to angry and fearful faces was associated with self-esteem such that individuals who scored highly in self esteem experienced greater distraction by these negative emotional expressions. Surprising, differences in trait anxiety were not significantly related to attentional capture by negative facial expressions. These results corroborate the notion that individual differences in various personality variables do contribute to attentional capture by and disengagement from emotional facial expressions. However, the nature of these relationships may be dependent upon the valence of the facial expression and the task(s) used to assess attentional processing.
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