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Jonas Everaert, Judith E. Fan, Ernst H.W. Koster, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne; Attentional capture from emotional associations in long-term memory. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):510. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/14.10.510.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Cognitive processes such as attention and memory are closely related to ones emotional state: Healthy individuals pay more attention to and better remember positively valenced stimuli, whereas anxious and depressed individuals are biased toward negatively valenced stimuli. Although such biases are well-documented, the underlying mechanisms are unclear. Here we examine how emotional associations in long-term memory guide spatial attention. In an initial encoding phase, distinct colors were consistently paired with faces depicting either happy, neutral, or angry expressions while participants performed a gender-discrimination cover task. In a subsequent test phase, two lines were presented on each trial, one tilted away from vertical (target) and the other vertical (distractor), and participants located the targets position. Colored disks framed each line: one color was associated with happy or angry faces and the other was associated with neutral faces. Colors associated with emotional faces framed the target (valid) and distractor (invalid) with equal probability, and target location was randomized colors were thus completely task-irrelevant. Attentional capture was quantified as invalid minus valid RT for a given valence category. We found that attentional capture for colors associated with happy faces was significantly predicted by subsequent memory for these color-expression associations. This was not true for colors associated with angry faces, suggesting a dissociation between attentional guidance from positive vs. negative information. Interestingly, individual differences in depression and anxiety levels were negatively correlated with the degree of attentional capture by colors associated with happy faces (e.g., more depressed individuals showed less capture from stimuli with positive associations). Taken together, these findings contribute to our understanding of how basic cognitive processes are modulated by emotion in both healthy and clinical populations. Namely, negative biases in anxiety and depression do not merely reflect motivational or decisional factors, but partly arise from more automatic forms of attentional capture.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
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