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Hsin-Mei Sun, Michelle Lin, Joo-Hyun Song; Irrelevant angry facial expressions attract attention and action. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):946. doi: 10.1167/17.10.946.
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Perceptually salient distractors, such as bright and flashing digital billboards, often attract attention involuntarily and disrupt target search, such as looking for specific road signs. However, low-level feature salience is not the only factor that affects attentional capture, as emotionally salient targets also receive prioritized attention during visual search. Given that emotional stimuli bias competition for attentional resources, examining how emotional distractors are processed during target selection is of critical importance for understanding adaptive human behavior in complex social situations. Here, we investigated how task-irrelevant faces with positive and negative expressions bias attentional allocation and goal-directed action during target search. Participants localized a gender-defined target in an array of four faces either with a simple keypress (Experiment 1) or a reach movement (Experiment 2) while trying to ignore emotional oddball faces that appeared in half of all trials. There were two emotional oddball expressions, happy and angry, while all other faces were neutral. We demonstrated increased interference from angry than happy oddball faces, with angry but not happy oddball faces slowing target search times compared to the emotional oddball absent condition (Experiment 1). We also observed faster and greater hand deviation toward angry than happy oddball faces (Experiment 2). Finally, Experiment 3 examined whether attentional capture by irrelevant angry expressions requires visual awareness. Participants identified target letters flanked by distractor letters with a face presented above or below the letters. The distractor face was neutral, happy, or angry, and visual awareness was manipulated by continuous flash suppression (CFS). We found that angry distractors, whether visible or invisible, slowed target identification. Together, our results revealed that attentional capture is affected by an object's emotional content, regardless of task goals and awareness. Additionally, angry expressions are not only attention-grabbing, but also capable of biasing rapid action responses regardless of an observer's intentions.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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