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Laurent Grégoire, Haena Kim, Andy J. Kim, Brian A. Anderson; Threat-modulated attentional priority is context specific. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):220. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.220.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Attention prioritizes stimuli previously associated with punishment. Despite the importance of this process for survival and adaptation (e.g., detect threatening stimuli), the potential generalization of threat-related attentional biases has been largely ignored in the literature. The present study aimed to determine whether stimulus-threat associations learned in a specific context transferred to another context (in which the stimulus was never paired with punishment). We examined this issue using an antisaccade task in which participants had to shift their gaze in the opposite direction of a colored square. Two contexts and three colors were employed. One color was associated with the threat of shock in one context (slow and inaccurate eye movements resulted in shock) and never paired with shock in the other context. For a second color, the punishment-context relationship was reversed. The third color was never paired with shock in either context (neutral). Context was manipulated via the background image upon which the stimuli were presented, as in a previous study demonstrating contextual specificity of reward-related attentional bias. Results indicated that error rates were significantly greater when the color was associated with punishment in the current context relative to the other two conditions. In a subsequent extinction phase (in which no shock was delivered) involving search for a shape-defined target, a bias to orient toward shock-associated colors was particular to the context in which the color was associated with shock, suggesting a contextually-specific attentional bias driven by associative learning. However, in the extinction phase, the color previously associated with punishment in context did not affect performance relative to the neutral condition; this absence of effect could be due, at least partially, to the fact that the neutral color was processed as a safety signal by some participants. Overall, results suggest that threat-modulated attentional priority is context specific.
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