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Lingling Wang, Steven Most; Attentional capture vs. emotional capture: Potentially separate mechanisms of perceptual disruption. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):272. doi: 10.1167/11.11.272.
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Emotional stimuli can disrupt perception of subsequent targets at their location, a phenomenon known as emotion-induced blindness (Most et al., 2005). It has been unclear whether the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon reflect a unique impact of emotion on perception or instead are identical to those that would be triggered by any attention capturing stimulus (e.g., Spalek, Falcon, & Di Lollo, 2006). Recently, we found emotion-induced blindness to be spatially localized (Most & Wang, in press): participants searched through two simultaneous RSVP streams for a target while trying to ignore a preceding neutral or emotional distractor, and the targets and distractors could appear either in the same or opposite stream. Emotion-induced target perception impairments in the streams containing emotional distractors but not in the opposite stream. In the current study, we first replicated this spatially localized effect (Experiment 1). We then tested whether non-emotional, but attention-grabbing distractors would elicit similarly localized perceptual impairments (Experiments 2 & 3). In Experiment 2, participants searched for a red letter that could appear within one of two simultaneous RSVP streams of white letters while attempting to ignore a preceding task-irrelevant green letter that could appear in either the same or opposite stream. Experiment 3 was identical, except that participants tried to ignore a task-irrelevant red digit, which could only be distinguished from the target via category membership rather than color. Both the green letter and the red digit disrupted target perception, but they did so in a spatially invariant fashion, with equivalent impairments regardless of whether they appeared in the same or opposite stream as the target. These results suggest that emotional distractors impair target perception via mechanisms of spatiotemporal competition, and that such mechanisms are separable from those triggered simply by the non-emotional capture of attention.
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