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Arni Asgeirsson, Sander Nieuwenhuis; No arousal-biased competition in visuospatial attention. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):961. doi: 10.1167/17.10.961.
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Cognitive processes, including memory, perceptual learning and decision-making, are modulated by arousal level, which can lead to positive or negative performance dependent on the experimental situation. Arousal-biased competition [ABC; Mather & Sutherland, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 114-133, 2011] is a prominent theory that attempts to account for arousal modulations in a general and comprehensive manner. It states that arousal biases competitive neural processing further in favor of high priority signals at the expense of low priority ones. We investigated whether the predictions of ABC can be applied to the processes of visuospatial attention. In 4 experiments, we presented emotionally arousing or neutral stimuli (pictures or sounds) before briefly presented arrays of letters, and investigated how this affected the division of attention among stimuli of differing priority. Priority was manipulated by varying the task-relevance or physical salience of differently colored letters. Performance was assessed under varying degrees of competition for resources, including: single target identification, pop-out target identification, flanking by irrelevant salient distractors, and in multi-target divided attention tasks. Bayesian methods were used to quantify the evidence for and against the predictions of ABC theory. All 4 experiments yielded evidence in favor of the null hypothesis: that the division of attention was unaffected by the precedence of arousing stimuli, while an ERP control experiment demonstrated that the arousal manipulations were effective. Together the results suggest that the scope of ABC may not include visuospatial attention, and could be limited to cognitive processes related to the consolidation of learning and memory.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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