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Emotion. 2008 Feb;8(1):121-6. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.8.1.121.

Looking happy: the experimental manipulation of a positive visual attention bias.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454-9110, USA.


Individuals with a positive visual attention bias may use their gaze to regulate their emotions while under stress. The current study experimentally trained differential biases in participants' (N = 55) attention toward positive or neutral information. In each training trial, one positive and one neutral word were presented and then a visual target appeared consistently in the location of the positive or neutral words. Participants were instructed to make a simple perceptual discrimination response to the target. Immediately before and after attentional training, participants were exposed to a stress task consisting of viewing a series of extremely negative images while having their eyes tracked. Visual fixation time to negative images, assessed with an eye tracker, served as an indicator of using gaze to successfully regulate emotion. Those participants experimentally trained to selectively attend to affectively positive information looked significantly less at the negative images in the visual stress task following the attentional training, thus demonstrating a learned aversion to negative stimuli. Participants trained toward neutral information did not show this biased gaze pattern.

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