Caution Follows Fear: Evidence From Hierarchical Drift Diffusion Modelling

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Fearful expressions are thought to warn of potential threat (Davis et al., 2011; Whalen, 1998) and therefore, 1 response to seeing fear might be to react cautiously. Although previous studies have tested for an effect of seeing fear on visual perception, they have not tested for increased decision making caution. Here, I applied hierarchical drift diffusion modeling (Vandekerckhove, Tuerlinckx, & Lee, 2011; Wiecki, Sofer, & Frank, 2013) to the results of 4 experiments designed to test the idea that seeing facial expressions both impairs visual perception (Bocanegra & Zeelenberg, 2009) and leads to changes in decision making caution. Standard statistical analyses showed that reaction times (RTs) were slower following fearful compared with neutral expressions. Diffusion modeling showed that the data were best described by increased caution and not impaired perception. Further experiments showed that: (a) happy expressions did not lead to increased caution (Experiment 3); and (b) people were less cautious after seeing sad compared with neutral expressions (Experiment 4). Overall, the results point to a new direction for research in this area—testing for differences in decision making caution following facial expressions and other emotion cues.

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