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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e52737. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052737. Epub 2013 Jan 9.

Emotions' impact on viewing behavior under natural conditions.

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Institute of Psychology, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany.


Human overt attention under natural conditions is guided by stimulus features as well as by higher cognitive components, such as task and emotional context. In contrast to the considerable progress regarding the former, insight into the interaction of emotions and attention is limited. Here we investigate the influence of the current emotional context on viewing behavior under natural conditions.In two eye-tracking studies participants freely viewed complex scenes embedded in sequences of emotion-laden images. The latter primes constituted specific emotional contexts for neutral target images.Viewing behavior toward target images embedded into sets of primes was affected by the current emotional context, revealing the intensity of the emotional context as a significant moderator. The primes themselves were not scanned in different ways when presented within a block (Study 1), but when presented individually, negative primes were more actively scanned than positive primes (Study 2). These divergent results suggest an interaction between emotional priming and further context factors. Additionally, in most cases primes were scanned more actively than target images. Interestingly, the mere presence of emotion-laden stimuli in a set of images of different categories slowed down viewing activity overall, but the known effect of image category was not affected. Finally, viewing behavior remained largely constant on single images as well as across the targets' post-prime positions (Study 2).We conclude that the emotional context significantly influences the exploration of complex scenes and the emotional context has to be considered in predictions of eye-movement patterns.

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