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Rashmi Gupta, Narayanan Srinivasan; Distractor Evaluation affects Awareness under High Load. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):197. doi: 10.1167/10.7.197.
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Perceptual load plays a critical role in determining awareness. Awareness of a distractor was reduced under high-load (that requires more resources) compared to low-load conditions. The salience hypothesis argues that salience of distractors and not perceptual load per se determines selective attention and distractor processing. Meaningful stimuli may capture attention and hence may suffer less inattentional blindness (IB). In addition to conscious perception, attention also affects evaluation of stimuli. Given differences in emotion-attention interactions, the study investigated the awareness of distractor emotional faces under different conditions of attention (low-load and high-load) using the IB paradigm. Participants performed a low or high-load task with a letter string superimposed on an emotional or neutral face. Participants were presented two faces and asked to identify the face (happy or sad) that appeared in the critical inattentional blindness trial. Results contradict predictions from load theory and indicated that differences in attention do matter for awareness. Attention-emotion interactions have different effects on awareness. Happy faces were identified better in the high-load condition indicating facilitation of unattended happy faces. However, performance was worse than chance for sad faces indicating inhibition of unattended distractor faces with sad expression. Inhibition or facilitation is associated with the emotional content of the distractor stimuli as well as the availability of the attentional resources. Distractor evaluation was dependent on emotion and affected awareness only under the high-load condition indicating the automatic nature of such evaluations. The lack of such evaluation effects in the low load condition indicates that the extra resources might inhibit the automatic evaluation mechanisms. The results have implications for theories of attention as well as the role of emotions in awareness and open a new set of possibilities to explore the factors affecting distractor evaluation under different attentional conditions.
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