Attention in natural scenes: Affective-motivational factors guide gaze independently of visual salience

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In addition to low-level stimulus characteristics and current goals, our previous experience with stimuli can also guide attentional deployment. It remains unclear, however, if such effects act independently or whether they interact in guiding attention. In the current study, we presented natural scenes including every-day objects that differed in affective-motivational impact. In the first free-viewing experiment, we presented visually-matched triads of scenes in which one critical object was replaced that varied mainly in terms of motivational value, but also in terms of valence and arousal, as confirmed by ratings by a large set of observers. Treating motivation as a categorical factor, we found that it affected gaze. A linear-effect model showed that arousal, valence, and motivation predicted fixations above and beyond visual characteristics, like object size, eccentricity, or visual salience. In a second experiment, we experimentally investigated whether the effects of emotion and motivation could be modulated by visual salience. In a medium-salience condition, we presented the same unmodified scenes as in the first experiment. In a high-salience condition, we retained the saturation of the critical object in the scene, and decreased the saturation of the background, and in a low-salience condition, we desaturated the critical object while retaining the original saturation of the background. We found that highly salient objects guided gaze, but still found additional additive effects of arousal, valence and motivation, confirming that higher-level factors can also guide attention, as measured by fixations towards objects in natural scenes.

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