Learned emotional associations influence visual processing, eventually

Jessica A. Collins, Kara J. Blacker, Kim Curby

    Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting abstract


    Emotional stimuli, such as snakes or angry faces, are prioritized during visual processing, often at the expense of other task-relevant visual information. Here we investigated whether neutral stimuli that have been associated with emotional characteristics can exert a similar influence on visual processing, and where in the time course of processing such effects of emotional knowledge, if present, emerge. In Experiment 1, participants learned to associate negative or neutral characteristics with a set of neutral face images. These faces then served as the first target in an attentional blink paradigm. On each trial 18 furniture and 2 target (T1 and T2) images were presented for 68ms each. T2 always lagged T1 by 3 (210-ms), 5 (350-ms), or 9 (630-ms) images. Participants indicated whether T1 (either a learned or novel face) was old or new and whether T2 (a watch) contained numbers or non-numbers. Faces with learned negative associations elicited a greater blink for subsequently presented targets, but only when T2 lagged by 350 ms (p<.001). In Experiment 2, similar training and RSVP paradigms were utilized to investigate the time course of accessing emotional knowledge. Each RSVP trial contained a target face (either trained or untrained) and ended with a word or non-word to which participants made a speeded lexical decision. Responses to affectively congruent words (i.e., a negative word following a face associated with negative characteristics) were faster than to affectively incongruent words. However, consistent with Experiment 1, this only occurred with a face-word lag of 350-ms (p=.05). Together, these findings suggest that (emotional) conceptual knowledge can produce stimulus prioritization and costs for other subsequently presented stimuli providing there is sufficient time to access the conceptual representation. These results suggest that the prioritization of emotional stimuli can occur via a flexible evaluation mechanism that incorporates higher-order information during visual processing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)896
    Number of pages1
    JournalJournal of Vision
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
    EventVision Sciences Society Annual Meeting (13th : 2013) - Naples, United States
    Duration: 10 May 201315 May 2013

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