Capture by Fear Revisited: An Electrophysiological Investigation Public Deposited

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Abstract or Summary
  • The present study, using a cuing paradigm, reexamined the claim of an attentional bias toward fearful faces. In Experiment 1, participants searched a target display for a letter in a specific color. This target display was preceded by a non-informative cue display, which contained colored boxes (one in the target color and one in the distractor color) or emotional faces (one fearful face and one neutral face). Each cue could appear in the same location as the target (validly cued) or different (invalidly cued). To determine whether the cues captured attention, we used an electrophysiological measure of spatial attention known as the N2pc effect. The target color cue produced a substantial N2pc effect and a robust cue validity effect on behavioral data, indicating capture by stimuli that match what participants are looking for. However, neither effect was present for the task-irrelevant fearful face cue. These findings suggest that negative stimuli (such as fearful facial expressions) do not generally have the inherent power to capture spatial attention against our will. Experiment 2 showed that these same fearful faces could capture attention when fearful expressions became task-relevant. Thus, the critical determinant of capture appears to be task-relevance, rather than perceived threat.
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  • Lien, M. C., Taylor, R., & Ruthruff, E. (2013). Capture by fear revisited: An electrophysiological investigation. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(7), 873-888. doi:10.1080/20445911.2013.833933
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