Perceptual Salience Does Not Influence Emotional Arousal’s Impairing Effects on Top-Down Attention

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Emotional arousal impairs top-down attentional control while strengthening bottom-up attentional biases. In this study, we examined whether top-down impairments due to arousal can be modulated by increasing the perceptual salience of the target stimulus. To examine this question, we briefly displayed positive and negative arousing images prior to the encoding of 2 emotionally neutral items, 1 of which was to be remembered and 1 of which was perceptually salient (the to-be-remembered and the salient items were either the same item or different items). Eye tracking was used to measure attention biases during the encoding of the 2 competing neutral items, as well as to measure pupillary responses to the preceding modulator image. Viewing emotional images, regardless of valence, impaired top-down attention to animate stimulus targets (i.e., animals), regardless of perceptual salience. However, these effects on encoding had no influence on recognition memory. Taken together, these findings reveal that exposure to emotionally arousing images impairs top-down attention to animate stimuli, regardless of whether that stimulus is perceptually salient.

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