Guided by Fear : Effects on attention and awareness

Detta är en avhandling från Stockholm : Department of Psychology, Stockholm University

Sammanfattning: Because the visual system has limited capacity, emotions such as fear may play an important role in guiding the selection of relevant input (LeDoux, 2000; Öhman & Mineka, 2001). The aim of the current thesis was to investigate how fear can guide the organism by influencing:  (I) attentional processes, (II) awareness of the visual input, and (III) affective processing independent of awareness. The aim of Study I was to investigate whether attention may be directed to threatening rather than neutral input in a task that resembles real-life viewing behavior but with stimuli controlled for low-level visual attributes unrelated to object identity. Results showed that spider fear was associated with faster detection of schematic spiders but not of flowers. These findings suggest that fear guides attention by processing object features rather than simple low-level features. The aim of Study II was to investigate with visual masking whether perceptual thresholds in spider and snake fear may be lower for threatening stimuli than for neutral stimuli. Results suggest that spider and snake fear are not associated with threat recognition in center view but with the tendency to misinterpret nonthreatening cues as threatening (response bias). In contrast, disgust sensitivity was associated with recognition of threat (spiders and snakes). The aim of Study III was to investigate if affective processing (subjective ratings and psychophysiological responses) occurs independently of awareness. Results showed that both emotion ratings and heart rate differed as a function of threat recognition. These results do not support the notion that emotional responses are independent from awareness. Instead, results suggest that emotional reactions to threatening stimuli are sensitive to variations in awareness.

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