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Minwoo Kim, Matt Taylor, James Hoffman; Emotional pictures automatically capture attention. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):1292. doi: 10.1167/17.10.1292.
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Emotional stimuli rapidly grab our attention even when we are deeply engrossed in other activities. For example, the presentation of a task-irrelevant picture interferes with the detection of closely following target picture, a phenomenon known as "emotion-induced blindness" (EIB; Most, Chun, Widders, & Zald, 2005; Kennedy, Rawding, Most, and Hoffman, 2014). Although the occurrence of EIB suggests that emotional pictures automatically capture attention, this paradigm doesn't present a very stringent test of this claim. People are paying attention to the pictures and they have a perceptual set for a target that is different than the background pictures. These features would contribute to capture by the emotional picture. In the current study, we tried to arrange a situation that would favor the ability of ignoring the emotional picture. Participants tracked two target circles moving among four identical non-target circles (multiple object tracking or MOT). A gap could occur in the left or right side of one of the targets and observers had to make a speeded response indicating the gap side. The moving objects appeared in front of a rapidly presented (10/sec.) sequence of pictures that could contain an emotional distractor. We found that tracking accuracy was unaffected by the occurrence of an emotional picture but RT to the appearance of the gap was delayed by 30 msec. when the appearance of the gap coincided with an emotional picture. Attention capture was confirmed by the presence of an N2pc-like ERP component that was elicited by the to-be-ignored emotional picture. In contrast, the N2pc elicited by the gap appearance was delayed by the presentation of the emotional distractor. These results provide additional evidence that emotional pictures automatically capture attention, even when they are never task-relevant and participants are engaged in an attention-demanding primary task.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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