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Batsheva Hadad, Elite Mardo, Galia Avidan; The effects of emotional cues on visual perception and the special case of faces. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):911. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/17.10.911.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Ample evidence suggests that emotion affects visual perception. The nature and the mechanism underlying these effects, however, are unclear. One of the more prevailing accounts suggests that during perception, arousal biases competition in favor of perceptually conspicuous or goal-relevant stimuli. In the first set of experiments directly testing this hypothesis, we demonstrate that negatively arousing pictures impaired subsequent discrimination of visual stimuli such as cars. However, face discrimination remained relatively persevered, particularly in individuals with high trait anxiety. To uncover the mechanism underlying these preserved face representations, Posner's cuing task was used in which arousing pictures served as either valid or invalid spatial cues. Faster RTs (benefit) to stimuli succeeding a valid cue and slower RTs (cost) to stimuli succeeding an invalid cue were always observed when the cue was neutral. However, for a negatively arousing cue, cost was observed for cars but not for faces. Interestingly, cost effects following an exposure to the invalid emotional stimuli were highly correlated with trait anxiety such that reduced cost was exhibited during face discrimination for anxious individuals. These results indicate that arousal biases attention towards perceptually salient stimuli, allowing observers, particularly those with high trait anxiety, to disengage attention from an arousing stimulus more easily when it is followed by a face. Altogether, the results indicate that exposure to emotional visual stimuli is detrimental to the perception of subsequently presented neutral stimuli. However, high priority stimuli, such as faces, are more resilient to arousal-biased competition, capturing attention that enhances their processing.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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