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Guided by Fear: Effects on attention and awareness
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Because the visual system has limited capacity, emotions such as fear may play an important role in guiding the selection of relevant input (LeDoux, 2000; Öhman & Mineka, 2001). The aim of the current thesis was to investigate how fear can guide the organism by influencing:  (I) attentional processes, (II) awareness of the visual input, and (III) affective processing independent of awareness. The aim of Study I was to investigate whether attention may be directed to threatening rather than neutral input in a task that resembles real-life viewing behavior but with stimuli controlled for low-level visual attributes unrelated to object identity. Results showed that spider fear was associated with faster detection of schematic spiders but not of flowers. These findings suggest that fear guides attention by processing object features rather than simple low-level features. The aim of Study II was to investigate with visual masking whether perceptual thresholds in spider and snake fear may be lower for threatening stimuli than for neutral stimuli. Results suggest that spider and snake fear are not associated with threat recognition in center view but with the tendency to misinterpret nonthreatening cues as threatening (response bias). In contrast, disgust sensitivity was associated with recognition of threat (spiders and snakes). The aim of Study III was to investigate if affective processing (subjective ratings and psychophysiological responses) occurs independently of awareness. Results showed that both emotion ratings and heart rate differed as a function of threat recognition. These results do not support the notion that emotional responses are independent from awareness. Instead, results suggest that emotional reactions to threatening stimuli are sensitive to variations in awareness.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University , 2010. , 52 p.
Keyword [en]
Emotion, fear, attention, awareness, affective processing, heart rate, skin conductance
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-37637ISBN: 978-91-7447-009-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-37637DiVA: diva2:304224
Public defence
2010-04-21, David Magnusson salen (U31), hus 8, Frescati Hagväg 8, Stockholm, 14:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 1: In press. Paper 3: Manuscript.Available from: 2010-03-30 Created: 2010-03-17 Last updated: 2010-06-15Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. What you fear will appear: Detection of schematic spiders in spider fear
Open this publication in new window or tab >>What you fear will appear: Detection of schematic spiders in spider fear
2010 (English)In: Experimental psychology (Göttingen), ISSN 1618-3169, E-ISSN 2190-5142, Vol. 57, no 6, 470-475 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Various experimental tasks suggest that fear guides attention. However, because these tasks often lack ecological validity, it is unclear to what extent results from these tasks can be generalized to real-life situations. In change detection tasks, a brief interruption of the visual input (i.e., a blank interval or a scene cut) often results in undetected changes in the scene. This setup resembles real-life viewing behavior and is used here to increase ecological validity of the attentional task without compromising control over the stimuli presented. Spider-fearful and nonfearful women detected schematic spiders and flowers that were added to one of two identical background pictures that alternated with a brief blank in between them (i.e., flicker paradigm). Results showed that spider-fearful women detected spiders (but not flowers) faster than did nonfearful women. Because spiders and flowers had similar low-level features, these findings suggest that fear guides attention on the basis of object features rather than simple low-level features.

Keyword
emotion, fear, attention, change detection
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-37636 (URN)10.1027/1618-3169/a000058 (DOI)000283649200009 ()
Available from: 2010-03-17 Created: 2010-03-17 Last updated: 2016-06-22Bibliographically approved
2. Recognizing masked threat: Fear betrays, but disgust you can trust
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Recognizing masked threat: Fear betrays, but disgust you can trust
2008 (English)In: Emotion, ISSN 1528-3542, Vol. 8, no 6, 810-819 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

If emotions guide consciousness, people may recognize degraded objects in center view more accurately if they either fear the objects or are disgusted by them. Therefore, we studied whether recognition of spiders and snakes correlates with individual differences in spider fear, snake fear, and disgust sensitivity. Female students performed a recognition task with pictures of spiders, snakes, flowers, and mushrooms as well as blanks. Pictures were backward masked to reduce picture visibility. Signal detection analyses showed that recognition of spiders and snakes was correlated with disgust sensitivity but not with fear of spiders or snakes. Further, spider fear correlated with the tendency to misinterpret blanks as threatening (response bias). These findings suggest that effects on recognition and response biases to emotional pictures vary for different emotions and emotional traits. Whereas fear may induce response biases, disgust may facilitate recognition.

Keyword
fear, recognition, masking, disgust sensitivity, signal detection
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17333 (URN)doi:10.1037/a0013731 (DOI)000261678100008 ()
Note
This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council.Available from: 2009-01-13 Created: 2009-01-13 Last updated: 2010-03-17Bibliographically approved
3. Stepwise emotional awareness: Behavioral and psychophysiological measurements
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Stepwise emotional awareness: Behavioral and psychophysiological measurements
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-37635 (URN)
Available from: 2010-03-17 Created: 2010-03-17 Last updated: 2010-03-17

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