Does emotion processing require attention? The effects of fear conditioning and perceptual load.
Yates A., Ashwin C., Fox E.
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.