The role of fear and expectancies in capture of covert attention by spiders

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Abstract

Fear-related stimuli are often prioritized during visual selection but it remains unclear whether capture by salient objects is more likely to occur when individuals fear those objects. In this study, participants with high and low fear of spiders searched for a circle while on some trials a completely irrelevant fear-related (spider) or neutral distractor (butterfly/leaf) was presented simultaneously in the display. Our results show that when you fear spiders and you are not sure whether a spider is going to be present, then any salient distractor (i.e., a butterfly) grabs your attention, suggesting that mere expectation of a spider triggered compulsory monitoring of all irrelevant stimuli. However, neutral stimuli did not grab attention when high spider fearful people knew that a spider could not be present during a block of trials, treating the neutral stimuli just as the low spider fearful people do. Our results show that people that fear spiders inspect potential spider-containing locations in a compulsory fashion even though directing attention to this location is completely irrelevant for the task. Reduction of capture can only be accomplished when people that fear spiders do not expect a spider to be present. © 2011 American Psychological Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)768-775
JournalEmotion
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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