Exploring the Limits of the Emotional Attentional Blink



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In the emotional attentional blink (EAB; also termed emotion-induced blindness), a single target in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream of fillers is difficult to report when it is preceded by a task-irrelevant emotional distractor, indicating temporal attentional capture by emotion. However, recent research has shown that the EAB is weaker than previously assumed and has suggested that emotion is not a strong driver of stimulus-driven attentional capture, at least in RSVP tasks. This dissertation explored the limits of the EAB with two aims: Aim 1 asked if the EAB is actually driven by emotion, or rather visual distinctiveness that is then modulated by emotion. Using RSVP streams with critical distractors that were emotional, visually distinct, both, or neither, the results support the latter account, and further suggest that the EAB can be characterized as two phases. In Experiment 1.1 with image stimuli, visual salience (regardless of emotion) led to an immediate—but rapidly attenuating—blink, while emotion with low visual salience led to a delayed blink with sparing of early lags. Experiment 1.2 with word stimuli did not show this same effect. Aim 2 asked if emotion appears to be a weak driver of stimulus-driven attentional capture in the EAB because the rapid dynamics of RSVP tasks require general suppression of all stimulus-driven attention to enhance goal-driven attentional control. The two experiments for Aim 2 (Experiment 2.1 with images and 2.2 with words) utilized a novel “skeletal” EAB paradigm with most filler items removed (as previously used in some two-target attentional blink studies) and compared performance to the typical EAB paradigm. Contrary to predictions, similar EABs were observed in skeletal and RSVP paradigms, suggesting that general suppression of all items in RSVP streams does not lead to a weaker EAB. Together, these aims provide a better understanding of the EAB and stimulus-driven attentional capture by emotional stimuli.



Emotional attentional blink, Attentional capture, Emotion-induced blindness, Temporal attention, Emotions