Attentional capture by signals of threat

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Attention can be captured automatically by events that are physically salient. Similarly, emotional stimuli are known to be prioritised by the visual system because of their behavioural significance. The present study investigated whether a neutral stimulus which became associated with fear captured attention in visual search. Using a fear-conditioning procedure, one stimulus was repeatedly combined with an electrical shock (CS+), whereas another stimulus with identical physical features was never combined with a shock (CS−). Following conditioning, participants had to search for a target; while on some trials, either an irrelevant CS+ or CS− stimulus was present. The results show that the presence of an irrelevant distractor that was previously associated with fear slowed a search more than a distractor without fear association. The current results indicate that learned fear associations have the ability to capture our attention even if we try to ignore them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-694
Number of pages8
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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