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Lindsay A. Santacroce, Apurva L. Swami, Benjamin J. Tamber-Rosenau; Emotional stimuli exert surprisingly weak capture of temporal attention. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):1256. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1256.
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Emotional distractors are thought to capture both temporal and visuospatial attention in spite of top-down goals. In the emotional attentional blink or emotion-induced blindness (EIB) phenomenon, an emotional but task-irrelevant critical distractor item (CDI) captures attention away from a target embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream. As a result, participants frequently miss the target if it is presented shortly after the CDI, similar to how participants miss the second of two targets in the standard attentional blink (AB). However, a recent study presented at VSS (Santacroce, Petro, Walker, & Tamber-Rosenau, 2019) combined the EIB and AB within single, hybrid trials by presenting CDIs interposed between two targets and showed that CDIs failed to break through the two-target AB unless they were highly visually distinct from other RSVP items. This recent result indirectly challenged previous assumptions about the ability of emotional stimuli to capture attention, motivating a more direct test of the strength of emotional capture of temporal attention. Here, we report two new experiments in which we directly compared EIB and two-target AB trials in the same participants in order to assess the relative strength of attentional capture by emotional stimuli compared to top-down targets in the AB. In each experiment, participants viewed RSVP streams of images with randomly intermixed two-target AB and CDI-plus-target EIB trials. Targets in Experiment 1 were defined by a border color, which requires only perceptual processing of distractor borders, but has previously been used to indicate targets in EIB studies. Targets in Experiment 2 were defined as images of fruit in a stream of objects, requiring semantic processing of each RSVP image. Both experiments revealed a strong AB, but failed to yield a strong EIB. These results suggest that emotional stimuli may not capture temporal attention as strongly as previously thought.
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