Can emotion modulate attention? Evidence for reciprocal links in the attentional network test.

Abstract

Evolution theory suggests that adaptive behavior depends on our ability to give preferential attention to emotional information when it is necessary for our survival, and to down-regulate irrelevant emotional influence. However, empirical work has shown that the interaction between emotion and attention varies, based on the attentional network in question. The aim of the current research was to examine the influence of stimulus emotionality on attention in three attentional networks: alerting, orienting, and executive functions. In two studies, using negative and neutral cues in a modified version of the Attention Network Test, it was found that negative cues impaired task performance in the absence of executive conflict, but not when executive processes were activated. Moreover, it was found that the influence of negative cues on task performance in a given trial was attenuated following activation of executive processes in the previous trial. These results suggest that when executive resources are required, inhibitory mechanisms are recruited to decrease the disruptive effect of emotional stimuli. More importantly, these findings indicate that the effect of emotional stimuli on attention is down-regulated both during cognitive conflict and after the conflict has already ended.

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