Affective engagement for facial expressions and emotional scenes: the influence of social anxiety.
ABSTRACT Pictures of emotional facial expressions or natural scenes are often used as cues in emotion research. We examined the extent to which these different stimuli engage emotion and attention, and whether the presence of social anxiety symptoms influences responding to facial cues. Sixty participants reporting high or low social anxiety viewed pictures of angry, neutral, and happy faces, as well as violent, neutral, and erotic scenes, while skin conductance and event-related potentials were recorded. Acoustic startle probes were presented throughout picture viewing, and blink magnitude, probe P3 and reaction time to the startle probe also were measured. Results indicated that viewing emotional scenes prompted strong reactions in autonomic, central, and reflex measures, whereas pictures of faces were generally weak elicitors of measurable emotional response. However, higher social anxiety was associated with modest electrodermal changes when viewing angry faces and mild startle potentiation when viewing either angry or smiling faces, compared to neutral. Taken together, pictures of facial expressions do not strongly engage fundamental affective reactions, but these cues appeared to be effective in distinguishing between high and low social anxiety participants, supporting their use in anxiety research.
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ABSTRACT: "Natural" crossmodal correspondences, such as the spontaneous tendency to associate high pitches with high spatial locations, are often hypothesized to occur preattentively and independently of task instructions (top-down attention). Here, we investigate bottom-up attentional engagement by using emotional scenes that are known to naturally and reflexively engage attentional resources. We presented emotional (pleasant and unpleasant) or neutral pictures either below or above a fixation cross, while participants were required to discriminate between a high or a low pitch tone (experiment 1). Results showed that despite a robust crossmodal attentional capture of task-irrelevant emotional pictures, the general advantage in classifying the tones for congruent over incongruent visual-auditory stimuli was similar for emotional and neutral pictures. On the other hand, when picture position was task-relevant (experiment 2), task-irrelevant tones did not interact with pictures with regard to their combination of pitch and visual vertical spatial position, but instead they were effective in minimizing the interference effect of emotional picture processing on the ongoing task. These results provide constraints on our current understanding of natural crossmodal correspondences.PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(2):e89858. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: There is emerging evidence for a positivity effect in healthy aging, which describes an age-specific increased focus on positive compared to negative information. Life-span researchers have attributed this effect to the selective allocation of cognitive resources in the service of prioritized emotional goals. We explored the basic principles of this assumption by assessing selective attention and memory for visual stimuli, differing in emotional content and self-relevance, in young and old participants. To specifically address the impact of cognitive control, voluntary attentional selection during the presentation of multiple-item displays was analyzed and linked to participants' general ability of cognitive control. Results revealed a positivity effect in older adults' selective attention and memory, which was particularly pronounced for self-relevant stimuli. Focusing on positive and ignoring negative information was most evident in older participants with a generally higher ability to exert top-down control during visual search. Our findings highlight the role of controlled selectivity in the occurrence of a positivity effect in aging. Since the effect has been related to well-being in later life, we suggest that the ability to selectively allocate top-down control might represent a resilience factor for emotional health in aging.PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(8):e104180. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: We previously reported that time-to-contact (TTC) judgments of threatening scene pictures (e.g., frontal attacks) resulted in shortened estimations and were mediated by cognitive processes, and that judgments of threatening (e.g., angry) face pictures resulted in a smaller effect and did not seem cognitively mediated. In the present study, the effects of threatening scenes and faces were compared in two different tasks. An effect of threatening scene pictures occurred in a prediction-motion task, which putatively requires cognitive motion extrapolation, but not in a relative TTC judgment task, which was designed to be less reliant on cognitive processes. An effect of threatening face pictures did not occur in either task. We propose that an object's explicit potential of threat per se, and not only emotional valence, underlies the effect of threatening scenes on TTC judgments and that such an effect occurs only when the task allows sufficient cognitive processing. Results are consistent with distinctions between predator and social fear systems and different underlying physiological mechanisms. Not all threatening information elicits the same responses, and whether an effect occurs at all may depend on the task and the degree to which the task involves cognitive processes.Attention Perception & Psychophysics 05/2014; · 1.97 Impact Factor