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Anne E. Ferrey, Angele Larocque, Fenske Mark J.; Suppressing sex and money: Response inhibition leads to devaluation of motivationally salient visual stimuli. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):250. doi: 10.1167/10.7.250.
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Stimuli that are ignored or otherwise inhibited during the course of a visual task typically receive more negative evaluations than stimuli that are the targets of attention or a behavioural response. This distractor devaluation effect occurs, not only for stimuli that are otherwise affectively neutral, but also for images that are clearly positive or negative in valence (Fenske et al.,VSS, 2009). This suggests that inhibition may elicit negative affect for task-irrelevant items, regardless of their a priori affective status. Here we examine whether similar effects occur for motivationally salient stimuli-- images of men and women that vary in sexual attractiveness (Exp. 1) and abstract patterns associated with monetary loss or gain (Exp. 2)-- presented as ‘Go’ or ‘No-go’ items in a response-inhibition task. Affective evaluations obtained after the Go/No-go task revealed higher ratings, overall, for images depicting individuals of the sex matching the participants' pre-stated preference than for images depicting their non-preferred sex. Higher ratings were also obtained for gain-associated patterns than for loss-associated patterns. Importantly, the magnitude of inhibition-related devaluation, manifested as a reduction in ratings for ‘No-go’ items to which a response was withheld compared to ‘Go’ items to which a response was made, was similar for all images regardless of their prior motivational status. These findings raise the possibility that attentional and behavioural inhibition trigger an avoidance response that can modify the reward value associated with a visual object. Findings are discussed in terms of potential applications of cognitive tasks for modulating the pathologically-high salience of stimuli associated with motivational disorders (e.g., drug-associated cues in addiction).
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