Modulation of spatial attention to visual targets by emotional environmental sounds

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Previous research has shown that visual spatial attention can be modulated by emotional prosody cues, but it is not known whether such crossmodal modulation of visual attention is associated with the engagement or disengagement of attentional resources. To test this, we employed a modified spatial cueing task, where participants indicated whether a visual target appeared either on the left or the right, after hearing a spatially non-predictive peripheral sound. Prior studies using prosody cues have found that modulation of visual attention by emotional auditory cues was lateralized, but this may have been due to the speech content of the stimuli; here instead we used non-speech environmental sounds. The sound was either emotional (pleasant, unpleasant) or neutral, and was presented either on the same side as the visual target ('valid' trial) or on the opposite side ('invalid' trial). For the cue validity index (RT to invalid cue minus RT to valid cue), we found differences between emotional and neutral cues, but only for visual targets presented in the right hemifield; here the cue validity index was lower for unpleasant compared to neutral and pleasant cues. Absolute RTs for targets on the right were faster for invalid trials following unpleasant cues, compared to pleasant and neutral cues, indicating that the reduced cue validity effect was due to faster disengagement from unpleasant auditory cues. Further, our results show that the laterality effect is related to the emotional nature of the cues, rather than the speech content of the stimuli.

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