October 2020
Volume 20, Issue 11
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   October 2020
Got Your Attention! – Threatening Targets Result in Longer Reaction Times
Author Affiliations
  • Kaitlin Erpenbeck
    University of Northern Colorado
  • Joanna Lewis
    University of Northern Colorado
Journal of Vision October 2020, Vol.20, 1499. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1499
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      Kaitlin Erpenbeck, Joanna Lewis; Got Your Attention! – Threatening Targets Result in Longer Reaction Times. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):1499. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1499.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Abstract

Visual search literature supports the notion that threatening stimuli capture attention, as threatening distractors lead to longer reactions times (RTs) in comparison to searches where no threat distractors are present (Devue, Belopolsky, Theeuwes, 2011; Hansen & Hansen, 1988). This is potentially due to the evolutionary advantage of noticing threats even when focusing on a task not explicitly involving said threats (Öhman, 2009). Shorter RTs were expected for visual searches with threatening targets, as attention capture should lead to faster target localization. We compared trials in which the threat was a target, a distractor, and absent, following the Irrelevant Singleton Paradigm (Theeuwes, 1991, 1992, 1994). Participants completed a search task (set sizes: 4 or 8 items) and reported on target directionality. The target was a color singleton (red stimuli amongst black distractor objects), which was independent of its status as a butterfly (non-threat stimulus) or a spider (threat stimulus), and the target was a threat stimulus at chance (1/set size). Low-level visual properties were controlled for in both stimuli sets by utilizing vector images (i.e., contrast and color were consistent). Experiment 1 had threats as the target or distractor; Experiment 2 had threat-target, threat-distractor, and threat-absent trials. The task and stimuli remained consistent. The current results were unanticipated, as participants took longer to complete the task in threat-target trials in comparison to threat-absent and threat-distractor trials. Previous literature has suggested that attention is ultimately still captured by threat stimuli, but that the following disengagement of attention may be delayed. Attention might be quickly captured but slowly released for threating targets in comparison to non-threating targets, indicating interference with task completion (Fox, Russo, & Dutton, 2002; Koster, Crombez, Van Damme, Verschuere, & De Houwer, 2004). We are currently examining if these costs are associated with overt attention shifts displayed by oculomotor capture.

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