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Cogn Process. 2008 May;9(2):127-35. Epub 2007 Nov 7.

Emotional attention: effects of emotion and gaze direction on overt orienting of visual attention.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Psicologia, Universit√† degli Studi di Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat n.5, 40127 Bologna, Italy.


In the present study we considered the two factors that have been advocated for playing a role in emotional attention: perception of gaze direction and facial expression of emotions. Participants performed an oculomotor task in which they had to make a saccade towards one of the two lateral targets, depending on the colour of the fixation dot which appeared at the centre of the computer screen. At different time intervals (stimulus onset asynchronies, SOAs: 50,100,150 ms) following the onset of the dot, a picture of a human face (gazing either to the right or to the left) was presented at the centre of the screen. The gaze direction of the face could be congruent or incongruent with respect to the location of the target, and the expression could be neutral or angry. In Experiment 1 the facial expressions were presented randomly in a single block, whereas in Experiment 2 they were shown in separate blocks. Latencies for correct saccades and percentage of errors (saccade direction errors) were considered in the analyses. Results showed that incongruent trials determined a significantly higher percentage of saccade direction errors with respect to congruent trials, thus confirming that gaze direction, even when task-irrelevant, interferes with the accuracy of the observer's oculomotor behaviour. The angry expression was found to hold attention for a longer time with respect to the neutral one, producing delayed saccade latencies. This was particularly evident at 100 ms SOA and for incongruent trials. Emotional faces may then exert a modulatory effect on overt attention mechanisms.

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