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This study examined the impact of perceptual load on the processing of unattended threat-relevant faces. Participants performed a central letter-classification task while ignoring irrelevant face distractors, which appeared above or below the central task. The face distractors were graded for affective salience by means of aversive fear conditioning, with a conditioned angry face (CS+), an unconditioned angry face (CS-), and a neutral control face. The letter-classification task was presented under conditions of both low and high perceptual load. Results showed that fear conditioned (i.e., CS+) angry face distractors interfered with task performance more than CS- angry or neutral face distractors but that this interference was completely eliminated by high perceptual load. These findings demonstrate that aversively conditioned face distractors capture attention only under conditions of low perceptual load.

Original publication

DOI

10.1037/a0020325

Type

Journal article

Journal

Emotion

Publication Date

12/2010

Volume

10

Pages

822 - 830

Keywords

Adolescent, Attention, Conditioning (Psychology), Emotions, Facial Expression, Fear, Female, Humans, Male, Mental Processes, Visual Perception, Young Adult