Monday, December 07, 2009

How fear versus disgust regulate our attention.

Vermeulen et al. do a nice experiment demonstrating emotional effects on our attention, using the attentional blink to show that our noticing a rapidly presented second irrelevant input after seeing a fearful face is inhibited more than after we have seen a disgusting face.
It is well known that facial expressions represent important social cues. In humans expressing facial emotion, fear may be configured to maximize sensory exposure (e.g., increases visual input) whereas disgust can reduce sensory exposure (e.g., decreases visual input). To investigate whether such effects also extend to the attentional system, we used the “attentional blink” (AB) paradigm. Many studies have documented that the second target (T2) of a pair is typically missed when presented within a time window of about 200–500 ms from the first to-be-detected target (T1; i.e., the AB effect). It has recently been proposed that the AB effect depends on the efficiency of a gating system which facilitates the entrance of relevant input into working memory, while inhibiting irrelevant input. Following the inhibitory response on post T1 distractors, prolonged inhibition of the subsequent T2 is observed. We hypothesized that processing facial expressions of emotion would influence this attentional gating. Fearful faces would increase but disgust faces would decrease inhibition of the second target...We found that processing fear faces impaired the detection of T2 to a greater extent than did the processing disgust faces. This finding implies emotion-specific modulation of attention.

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