No Experimental Evidence for Visual Prior Entry of Angry Faces, Even When Feeling Afraid

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Abstract

Threatening stimuli prevent attentional disengagement. Less clear is whether threat captures attention in addition to holding it. One way to measure attentional capture is to examine visual prior entry. Visual prior entry occurs when one stimulus is consciously recognized as appearing prior to other stimuli. Using a temporal order judgments paradigm, we examined whether threatening, angry faces would experience visual prior entry. Such a finding would provide evidence for attentional capture by threat. We further examined whether such attentional capture by threat was contingent on feeling afraid. Using Bayesian analyses, we found moderate support for the null hypothesis in 2 experiments (Ns = 44, 63). Angry faces did not capture attention, and there was no effect of feeling afraid because of watching a horror movie (Experiment 1) or anticipatory fear about giving a speech in front of an expert panel (Experiment 2). These studies were supplemented with a meta-analysis that suggests the visual prior entry effect is very small, if indeed it exists. Thus, the visual prior entry effect for threatening faces is likely a much smaller effect than the extant literature suggests.

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