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Do emotional faces capture attention, and does this depend on awareness? Evidence from the visual probe paradigm

Hedger, N., Garner, M. and Adams, W. J. (2019) Do emotional faces capture attention, and does this depend on awareness? Evidence from the visual probe paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 45 (6). pp. 790-802. ISSN 0278-7393

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1037/xhp0000640


The visual probe (VP) paradigm provides evidence that emotional stimuli attract attention. Such effects have been reported even when stimuli are presented outside of awareness. These findings have shaped the idea that humans possess a processing pathway that detects evolutionarily significant signals independently of awareness. Here, we addressed 2 unresolved questions: First, if emotional stimuli attract attention, is this driven by their affective content, or by low-level image properties (e.g., luminance contrast)? Second, does attentional capture occur under conditions of genuine unawareness? We found that observers preferentially allocated attention to emotional faces under aware viewing conditions. However, this effect was best explained by low-level stimulus properties, rather than emotional content. When stimuli were presented outside of awareness (via continuous flash suppression or masking), we found no evidence that attention was directed toward emotional face stimuli. Finally, observer's awareness of the stimuli (assessed by d') predicted attentional cuing. Our data challenge existing literature: First, we cast doubt on the notion of preferential attention to emotional stimuli in the absence of awareness. Second, we question whether effects revealed by the VP paradigm genuinely reflect emotion-sensitive processes, instead suggesting they can be more parsimoniously explained by low-level variability between stimuli. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:87285
Publisher:American Psychological Association


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