Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Load-Dependent Modulation of Affective Picture Processing

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Load-Dependent Modulation of Affective Picture Processing

Article excerpt

Because of the biological significance of emotional stimuli, their processing is considered largely automatic. In the study reported herein, we tested the alternative hypothesis-namely, that the processing of emotional stimuli requires some level of attention. Our experiments utilized highly negative and arousing visual stimuli comprising mutilated bodies. All experiments employed a single task, which consisted of determining whether two peripheral bars were like oriented or not, thereby eliminating potential task-difference confounds that may have contaminated prior studies. Our results revealed that task-irrelevant unpleasant images slowed reaction time during the performance of the main task. Such interference was modulated by task difficulty as well as by alcohol consumption, showing that the processing of emotional visual stimuli is not immune to attentional manipulations. These results suggest that it is essential to utilize attentional manipulations that more fully consume attentional resources in order to demonstrate that the processing of emotional stimuli is resource limited.

Understanding the impact of the processing of emotion-laden visual information on behavior is of great interest. Humans exhibit fast, involuntary autonomie responses to emotional stimuli, such as aversive pictures or faces with fearful expressions (Codispoti, Bradley, & Lang, 2001; Cuthbert, Schupp, Bradley, Birbaumer, & Lang, 2000; Hagemann, Waldstein, & Thayer, 2003). A body of data supports the notion that the processing of affective items is prioritized relative to that of emotionally neutral stimuli. For instance, subjects are faster at detecting fearful or threatening target faces than they are at detecting neutral ones (Ishai, Pessoa, Bikle, & Ungerleider, 2004; Öhman, Lundqvist, & Esteves, 2001) and show facilitated search for fear-relevant pictures among fear-irrelevant pictures (Öhman, Flykt, & Esteves, 2001). In addition, growing evidence has demonstrated that affective processing is modulated by several factors, including attention and cognitive regulation (Ochsner & Gross, 2005; Pessoa, 2005). For example, manipulating the focus of spatial attention has been shown to eliminate differential signals evoked by fearful faces in both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event-related potential (ERP) studies (Eimer, Holmes, & McGlone, 2003; Pessoa, McKenna, Gutierrez, & Ungerleider, 2002). In addition, cognitively changing the meaning of emotionally evocative stimuli (i.e., emotional regulation) affects evoked responses in the amygdala and other brain areas (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002; Ochsner et al., 2004).

The goal of the present study was to probe how attention and other task-related factors affect the processing of emotion-laden visual stimuli. One of the functions of attention is to selectively enhance the perception of visual objects, thereby increasing accuracy and decreasing time needed to react to them (e.g., Posner, 1980; Posner & Cohen, 1984; Rizzolatti, Riggio, Dascola, & Umiltà, 1987). Paying attention to a location in space (or an object) improves its associated neural processing, increasing the likelihood that it will affect action. At the same time, there is increasing evidence that the processing of objects outside the focus of attention is largely reduced and, under certain circumstances, even eliminated (Joseph, Chun, & Nakayama, 1997; Lavie, 1995, 2005; Mack & Rock, 1998; Rensink, 2002; Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997; Simons & Rensink, 2005). For example, during inattentional blindness, subjects are sometimes asked to focus on certain aspects of a visual scene and, by doing so, are incapable of reporting a salient event occurring outside of the focus of attention (Mack & Rock, 1998). Interestingly, inattentional blindness is less severe for facial expressions of emotion, which is consistent with the view that the processing of affective items is prioritized relative to that of emotionally neutral stimuli, as stated above. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.