Relevance Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Attentional Bias to Relevant Stimuli in Children

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Abstract

Attentional biases are most often framed in a threat relevance framework. Alternatively, it could be that not only threat-related stimuli draw attention but also that preferential attention is drawn to all stimuli that have relevance for an individual. We investigated this stimulus relevance theory in primary school-age children by means of a visual search task. As predicted, children displayed attentional biases toward evolutionary and modern threat-related stimuli, such as spiders and guns, but also toward other relevant, positive stimuli (i.e., cakes, gifts, and happy faces). These results suggest that attentional biases are not specific to threat, but seem to apply to all relevant stimuli, both positive and negative in valence, providing first evidence for the stimulus relevance theory of preferential attention in children.

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