When danger lurks in the background

Attentional capture by animal fear-relevant distractors is specific and selectively enhanced by animal fear

Ottmar V. Lipp*, Allison M. Waters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

74 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Across 2 experiments, a new experimental procedure was used to investigate attentional capture by animal fear-relevant stimuli. In Experiment 1 (N = 34), unselected participants were slower to detect a neutral target animal in the presence of a spider than a cockroach distractor and in the presence of a snake than a large lizard distractor. This result confirms that phylogenetically fear-relevant animals capture attention specifically and to a larger extent than do non-fear-relevant animals. In Experiment 2 (N = 86), detection of a neutral target animal was slowed more in the presence of a feared fear-relevant distractor (e.g., a snake for snake-fearful participants) than in presence of a not-feared fear-relevant distractor (e.g., a spider for snake-fearful participants). These results indicate preferential attentional capture that is specific to phylogenetically fear-relevant stimuli and is selectively enhanced in individuals who fear these animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-200
Number of pages9
JournalEmotion
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Attentional capture
  • Fear relevance
  • Preparedness
  • Visual search

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