September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Threatening Targets Unable to Capture Attention, Yet Won't Let It Go
Author Affiliations
  • Joanna Lewis
    University of Northern Colorado
  • Kaitlin Erpenbeck
    University of Northern Colorado
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2908. doi:
  • Views
  • Share
  • Tools
    • Alerts
      This feature is available to authenticated users only.
      Sign In or Create an Account ×
    • Get Citation

      Joanna Lewis, Kaitlin Erpenbeck; Threatening Targets Unable to Capture Attention, Yet Won't Let It Go. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2908.

      Download citation file:

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

  • Supplements

Previous research has provided evidence that an irrelevant, but threatening, object can capture visual attention compared to the absence of a threat (Hansen & Hansen, 1988; Öhman et al., 2001). This impact can be measured in an irrelevant singleton paradigm, in which the unrelated threatening object identity does not predict the target location during visual search (e.g., Theeuwes, 1991). Based on this paradigm, we expected participants to respond to threatening targets faster than neutral targets if attention capture was occurring based on the target’s threat-status. However, our research has repeatedly found the opposite in that threatening targets result in longer search times. We hypothesized that threatening targets may result in oculomotor capture (search time), but the increase in response times may be explained by potential distraction or disengagement after the initial threatening target fixation (verification time). Participants searched and discriminated the left-right orientation for a red singleton. Vector representations were used for stimuli images; the threatening stimulus was a single spider and non-threat stimuli were butterfly images. The target having a threat-status occurred at chance based on the search display set sizes (4 or 8 items). We replicated our previous findings, where trials with a positive target threat-status were associated with an increase in response times. Assessing oculomotor behaviors, we found (a) no differences occurred in initial search time for targets based on threat-status, (b) an increased likelihood of fixating on a threating target compared to no threat target, and (c) threatening targets were associated with increased target verification times. Our results suggest the threatening information did not induce attentional or oculomotor capture, but supports our hypothesis that task irrelevant threatening items result in difficulty in disengaging or impairs decision-making in the primary search task.


This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

Sign in or purchase a subscription to access this content. ×

You must be signed into an individual account to use this feature.