Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

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.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





822 - 830


Adolescent, Attention, Conditioning (Psychology), Emotions, Facial Expression, Fear, Female, Humans, Male, Mental Processes, Visual Perception, Young Adult