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Neuroscience. 2015 Sep 10;303:338-45. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.06.055. Epub 2015 Jul 2.

Neural evidence that suspense narrows attentional focus.

Author information

1
School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 654 Cherry St., Atlanta, GA 30332, United States. Electronic address: mbezdek@gatech.edu.
2
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, United States.
3
Center for Advanced Brain Imaging, 831 Marietta St., Atlanta, GA 30318, United States.
4
School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 654 Cherry St., Atlanta, GA 30332, United States.

Abstract

The scope of visual attention changes dynamically over time. Although previous research has reported conditions that suppress peripheral visual processing, no prior work has investigated how attention changes in response to the variable emotional content of audiovisual narratives. We used fMRI to test for the suppression of spatially peripheral stimuli and enhancement of narrative-relevant central stimuli at moments when suspense increased in narrative film excerpts. Participants viewed films presented at fixation, while flashing checkerboards appeared in the periphery. Analyses revealed that increasing narrative suspense caused reduced activity in peripheral visual processing regions in the anterior calcarine sulcus and in default mode network nodes. Concurrently, activity increased in central visual processing regions and in frontal and parietal regions recruited for attention and dynamic visual processing. These results provide evidence, using naturalistic stimuli, of dynamic spatial tuning of attention in early visual processing areas due to narrative context.

KEYWORDS:

attention; cognitive neuroscience; emotions; narrative transportation; suspense

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