Testing a goal-driven account of involuntary attentional capture by threat

Brown, Chris R H, Berggren, Nick and Forster, Sophie (2019) Testing a goal-driven account of involuntary attentional capture by threat. Emotion. ISSN 1528-3542

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Attention has long been characterised within prominent models as reflecting a competition between goal-driven and stimulus-driven processes. It remains unclear, however, how involuntary attentional capture by affective stimuli, such as threat-laden content, fits into such models. While such effects were traditionally held to reflect stimulus-driven processes, recent research has increasingly implicated a critical role of goal-driven processes. Here we test an alternative goal-driven account of involuntary attentional capture by threat, using an experimental manipulation of goal-driven attention. To this end we combined the classic ‘contingent capture’ and ‘emotion-induced blink’ (EIB) paradigms in an RSVP task with both positive or threatening target search goals. Across six experiments, positive and threat distractors were presented in peripheral, parafoveal, and central locations. Across all distractor locations, we found that involuntary attentional capture by irrelevant threatening distractors could be induced via the adoption of a search goal for a threatening category; adopting a goal for a positive category conversely led to capture only by positive stimuli. Our findings provide direct experimental evidence for a causal role of voluntary goals in involuntary capture by irrelevant threat stimuli, and hence demonstrate the plausibility of a top-down account of this phenomenon. We discuss the implications of these findings in relation to current cognitive models of attention and clinical disorders.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Threat; attentional bias; selective attention; goal-driven attention; top-down attention
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Depositing User: Sanjeedah Choudhury
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2018 15:46
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2019 17:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/80239

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