August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
Contingency Awareness is not required for Fear Conditioned Capture of Attention
Author Affiliations
  • Lauren Hopkins
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Nicholas Christopher-Hayes
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Fred Helmstetter
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Deborah Hannula
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 1020. doi:
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      Lauren Hopkins, Nicholas Christopher-Hayes, Fred Helmstetter, Deborah Hannula; Contingency Awareness is not required for Fear Conditioned Capture of Attention. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1020.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Past work has shown that fear conditioned materials can capture attention, but under most circumstances participants have explicit knowledge of the contingent relationship. One concern is that this explicit knowledge may lead to voluntary prioritization of the conditioned stimulus despite instructions otherwise. The current study used a probabilistic fear conditioning paradigm in conjunction with eye tracking to address questions about whether or not predictors of shock capture attention in the absence of explicit awareness. Participants completed a training phase followed by a test phase. During training, eye movements were recorded as participants located a red or green circle embedded in an array of distractors (i.e. additional colored circles). They were told that if they were too slow to find the target they would receive a shock. In reality, one color (e.g. red, the CS+) was paired more often with shock delivery than the other (e.g. green, the CS-) regardless of the participant's behavior. During the subsequent test phase, participants were instructed to fixate a uniquely shaped item (e.g. diamond) among distractors (e.g. a variety of colored circles). Test trials were of three types and were either missing a CS (i.e. baseline trials), included the CS+, or included the CS- in the array. Importantly, the CS+ and the CS- were never targets and were task-irrelevant. Objective and subjective questionnaires sensitive to awareness of the contingencies imposed during training were completed after the experiment. . Despite instructions to ignore distractors, and poor contingency knowledge, participants fixated the CS+ more quickly than the CS- during training, and made erroneous saccades to the CS+ more often than the CS- during test. These results are consistent with the view that learned indicators of danger are subject to attentional prioritization and capture, effects that are evident even when participants cannot articulate or identify the learned associations.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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