The time course of attentional biases to cues of threat and safety

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It is well known that relative to neutral stimuli, attention is biased towards processing stimuli that convey threat. In a previous study in which a particular stimulus (e.g. a blue diamond) was associated with the delivery of an electrical shock, the presence of the fear-conditioned stimulus interfered with the execution of voluntary eye movements to other locations. Here, we show that this effect not only occurs early in time, but remains present long after the fear-conditioned stimulus was removed from the screen. In a subsequent experiment, we associated the presence of a particular stimulus with safety, that is, when this stimulus was present it was certain that no electrical shock would be delivered. The presence of the safety signalling stimulus also interfered with the execution of voluntary saccades, but only when the time between stimulus and cue presentation was relatively long. The results indicate that both signals of threat and signals of safety interfere with execution of a saccade long after the source of threat or safety has been removed. However, only threatening stimuli affect saccade execution early in time, suggesting that threatening stimuli drive selection exogenously.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-857
Number of pages14
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number5
Early online date6 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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