Evidence from two experiments suggests that negative arousal increases biases in attention that result from differences in visual salience. Participants were exposed to negative arousing or neutral sounds before briefly viewing an array of letters. They reported as many of the letters as they could, and attention was biased to certain letters by increasing salience through visual contrast. Regardless of the type of sound heard, participants were more likely to recall high-salience letters than low-salience letters. However, on arousing trials recall of high-salience letters increased, while recall of low-salience letters did not. These findings indicate that negative emotional arousal increases the selectivity of attention, and provides evidence for arousal-biased competition (ABC) theory (Mather & Sutherland, 2011), which predicts that emotional arousal enhances representations of stimuli that have priority.
Emotional Arousal; Salience; Short-Term Memory
Several theoretical frameworks have suggested that anxiety/stress impairs cognitive performance. A competing prediction is made by attentional narrowing models that predict that stress decreases the processing of task-irrelevant items, thus benefiting performance when task-irrelevant information interferes with behavior. Critically, previous studies have not evaluated these competing frameworks when potent emotional manipulations are involved. Here, we used threat of bodily harm preceding a color-word Stroop task to test these claims. We found a basic effect of threat consisting of a slowing down of performance during neutral Stroop trials. Furthermore, both facilitation and interference scores were affected by threat of shock in a way that was consistent with a reduced-distractor effect. Taken together, we interpret our findings in terms of two opposing effects of stress on cognitive performance. Although partly consistent with the attentional narrowing hypothesis, both resource models and cognitive breadth models require revision in order to account for the results.
Anxiety; Cognition; Stress; Attentional Narrowing
Cognition and emotion interact to determine ongoing behaviors. In this study, we investigated the interaction between cognition and emotion during response inhibition using the stop-signal task. In Experiment 1, low-threat stop-signals comprising fearful and happy face pictures were employed. We found that both fearful and happy faces improved response inhibition relative to neutral ones. In Experiment 2, we employed high-threat emotional stimuli as stop signals, namely stimuli previously paired with mild shock. In this case, inhibitory performance was impaired relative to a neutral condition. We interpret these findings in terms of the impact of emotional stimuli on early sensory/attentional processing, which resulted in improved performance (Experiment 1), and in terms of their impact at more central stages, which impaired performance (Experiment 2). Taken together, our findings demonstrate that emotion can either enhance or impair cognitive performance depending on the emotional potency of the stimuli involved.
Classic and contemporary research on person perception has demonstrated the paramount importance of interpersonal warmth. Recent research on embodied cognition has shown these feelings of social warmth or coldness can be induced by experiences of physical warmth or coldness, and vice versa. Here we show that people tend to self-regulate their feelings of social warmth through applications of physical warmth, apparently without explicit awareness of doing so. In Study 1, higher scores on a measure of chronic loneliness (social coldness) were associated with an increased tendency to take warm baths or showers. In Study 2, a physical coldness manipulation significantly increased feelings of loneliness. In Study 3, needs for social affiliation and for emotion regulation, triggered by recall of a past rejection experience, were subsequently eliminated by an interpolated physical warmth experience. Study 4 provided evidence that people are not explicitly aware of the relation between physical and social warmth (coldness), as they do not consider a target person who often bathes to be any lonelier than one who does not, all else being equal. Together, these findings suggest that physical and social warmth are to some extent substitutable in daily life and that this substitution reflects an unconscious self-regulatory mechanism.
The structure of temperament traits in young children has been the subject of extensive debate, with separate models proposing different trait dimensions. This research has relied almost exclusively on parent-report measures. The present study used an alternative approach, a laboratory observational measure, to explore the structure of temperament in preschoolers. A 2-stage factor analytic approach, exploratory factor analyses (n = 274) followed by confirmatory factor analyses (n = 276), was used. We retrieved an adequately fitting model that consisted of 5 dimensions: Sociability, Positive Affect/Interest, Dysphoria, Fear/Inhibition, and Constraint versus Impulsivity. This solution overlaps with, but is also distinct from, the major models derived from parent-report measures.
temperament; preschoolers; laboratory observational measure
Theorists contend that emotional awareness is vital to being able to use emotional information adaptively. The extent to which individuals attend to and value their feelings, or attention to emotion, is a facet of emotional awareness. Little research, however, has examined whether attention to emotion affects the magnitude or intensity of emotional experiences. In the present study we examined the relations between attention to emotion and levels of affect in 53 healthy adults. Participants carried hand-held electronic devices for approximately seven days and were randomly prompted eight times per day to answer a series of questions. At each prompt, participants reported attention to emotion, current negative affect (NA), and positive affect (PA). All findings presented were computed using multilevel modeling. Replicating findings obtained using trait-level measures, we found that attention to emotion was associated concurrently with higher levels of both NA and PA. We also found prospectively that attention to emotion at one prompt predicted a decrease in levels of NA, but no change in levels of PA, at the subsequent prompt. These findings suggest that emotional processes serve different functions over time and highlight the role of attention to emotion in affect regulation.
affect intensity; attention to emotion; emotional awareness; emotion regulation; experience sampling
Previous research suggests that neural and behavioral responses to surprised faces are modulated by explicit contexts (e.g., “He just found $500”). Here, we examined the effect of implicit contexts (i.e., valence of other frequently presented faces) on both valence ratings and ability to detect surprised faces (i.e., the infrequent target). In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that participants interpret surprised faces more positively when they are presented within a context of happy faces, as compared to a context of angry faces. In Experiments 2 and 3, we used the oddball paradigm to evaluate the effects of clearly valenced facial expressions (i.e., happy and angry) on default valence interpretations of surprised faces. We offer evidence that the default interpretation of surprise is negative, as participants were faster to detect surprised faces when presented within a happy context (Exp. 2). Finally, we kept the valence of the contexts constant (i.e., surprised faces) and showed that participants were faster to detect happy than angry faces (Exp. 3). Together, these experiments demonstrate the utility of the oddball paradigm to serve as an implicit context to resolve the valence ambiguity of surprised facial expressions, but that this implicit context does not completely override the default negativity.
oddball; facial expressions; ambiguity; emotion
Past studies have revealed that encountering negative events interferes with cognitive processing of subsequent stimuli. The present study investigated whether negative events affect semantic and perceptual processing differently. Presentation of negative pictures produced slower reaction times than neutral or positive pictures in tasks that require semantic processing, such as natural/man-made judgments about drawings of objects, commonness judgments about objects, and categorical judgments about pairs of words. In contrast, negative picture presentation did not slow down judgments in subsequent perceptual processing (e.g., color judgments about words, and size judgments about objects). The subjective arousal level of negative pictures did not modulate the interference effects on semantic/perceptual processing. These findings indicate that encountering negative emotional events interferes with semantic processing of subsequent stimuli more strongly than perceptual processing, and that not all types of subsequent cognitive processing are impaired by negative events.
negative mood; interference; valence; semantic processing; emotion and cognition
This study examined the impact of perceptual load on the processing of unattended threat-relevant faces. Participants performed a central letter-classification task while ignoring irrelevant face distractors, which appeared above or below the central task. The face distractors were graded for affective salience by means of aversive fear conditioning, with a conditioned angry face (CS+), an unconditioned angry face (CS−), and a neutral control face. The letter-classification task was presented under conditions of both low and high perceptual load. Results showed that fear conditioned (i.e., CS+) angry face distractors interfered with task performance more than CS− angry or neutral face distractors but that this interference was completely eliminated by high perceptual load. These findings demonstrate that aversively conditioned face distractors capture attention only under conditions of low perceptual load.
attention; fear-conditioning; threat; perceptual load; emotion processing
The impact of trait anxiety and perceptual load on selective attention was examined in a fear conditioning paradigm. A fear-conditioned angry face (CS+), an unconditioned angry face (CS−), or an unconditioned face with a neutral or happy expression were used in distractor interference and attentional probe tasks. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants classified centrally presented letters under two conditions of perceptual load. When perceptual load was high, distractors had no effect on selective attention, even with aversive conditioning. However, when perceptual load was low, strong response interference effects for CS+ face distractors were found for low trait-anxious participants. Across both experiments, this enhanced distractor interference reversed to strong facilitation effects for those reporting high trait anxiety. Thus, high trait-anxious participants were faster, rather than slower, when ignoring CS+ distractors. Using an attentional probe task in Experiment 3, it was found that fear conditioning resulted in strong attentional avoidance in a high trait-anxious group, which contrasted with enhanced vigilance in a low trait-anxious group. These results demonstrate that the impact of fear conditioning on attention is modulated by individual variation in trait anxiety when perceptual load is low. Fear conditioning elicits an avoidance of threat-relevant stimuli in high trait-anxious participants.
emotion processing; fear conditioning; anxiety; attentional bias; perceptual load
Factors leading humans to shift attention away from danger cues remain poorly understood. Two laboratory experiments reported here show that context interacts with learning experiences to shape attention avoidance of mild danger cues. The first experiment exposed 18 participants to contextual threat of electric shock. Attention allocation to mild danger cues was then assessed with the dot-probe task. Results showed that contextual threat caused subjects to avert attention from danger cues. In the second experiment, 36 participants were conditioned to the same contextual threat used in Experiment 1. These subjects then were randomly assigned to either an experimental group, trained to shift attention toward danger cues, or a placebo group exposed to the same stimuli without the training component. As in Experiment 1, contextual threat again caused attention allocation away from danger in the control group. However, this did not occur in the experimental group. These experiments show that acute contextual threat and learning experiences interact to shape the deployment of attention away from danger cues.
Attention bias; acute stress; instructed fear conditioning; attention training
Pavlovian learning tasks have been widely used as tools to understand basic cognitive and emotional processes in humans. The present studies investigated one particular task, Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT), with human participants in an effort to examine potential cognitive and emotional effects of Pavlovian cues upon instrumentally-trained performance. In two experiments subjects first learned two separate instrumental response-outcome relationships (R1-O1, R2-O2) and then were exposed to various stimulus-outcome relationships (S1-O1, S2-O2, S3-O3, S4-) before the effects of the Pavlovian stimuli on instrumental responding were assessed during a nonreinforced test. In Experiment 1 instrumental responding was established using a positive reinforcement procedure whereas in Experiment 2 a quasi-avoidance learning task was used. In both cases the Pavlovian stimuli exerted selective control over instrumental responding, whereby S1 & S2 selectively elevated the instrumental response with which it shared an outcome. In addition, in Experiment 2, S3 exerted a nonselective transfer of control effect, whereby both responses were elevated over baseline levels. These data identify two ways, one specific and one general, in which Pavlovian processes can exert control over instrumental responding in human learning paradigms, and suggest that this method may serve as a useful tool in the study of basic cognitive and emotional processes in human learning.
Pavlovian-instrumental transfer; PIT; sensory-specific associations; motivational control; human learning
Field studies and laboratory experiments have documented that a key component of resilience is emotional flexibility – the ability to respond flexibly to changing emotional circumstances. In the present study we tested the hypotheses that resilient people exhibit emotional flexibility: a) in response to frequently changing emotional stimuli; and b) across multiple modalities of emotional responding. As participants viewed a series of emotional pictures, we assessed their self-reported affect, facial muscle activity, and startle reflexes. Higher trait resilience predicted more divergent affective and facial responses (corrugator and zygomatic) to positive versus negative pictures. Thus, compared with their low resilient counterparts, resilient people appear to be able to more flexibly match their emotional responses to the frequently changing emotional stimuli. Moreover, whereas high trait resilient participants exhibited divergent startle responses to positive versus negative pictures regardless of the valence of the preceding trial, low trait resilient participants did not exhibit divergent startle responses when the preceding picture was negative. High trait resilient individuals, therefore, appear to be better able than are their low-resilient counterparts to either switch or maintain their emotional responses depending on whether the emotional context changes. The present findings broaden our understanding of the mechanisms underlying resilience by demonstrating that resilient people are able to flexibly change their affective and physiological responses to match the demands of frequently changing environmental circumstances.
resilience; emotional flexibility; affect; EMG; startle reflex
Young children's temper tantrums offer a unique window into the expression and regulation of strong emotions. Previous work, largely based on parental report, suggests that two emotions, anger and sadness, have different behavioral manifestations and different time courses within tantrums. Individual motor and vocal behaviors, reported by parents, have been interpreted as representing different levels of intensity within each emotion category. The present study used high fidelity audio recordings to capture the acoustic features of children's vocalizations during tantrums. Results indicated that perceptually categorized screaming, yelling, crying, whining, and fussing each have distinct acoustic features. Screaming and yelling form a group with similar acoustic features while crying, whining, and fussing form a second acoustically related group. Within these groups, screaming may reflect a higher intensity of anger than yelling while fussing, whining and crying may reflect an increasing intensity of sadness.
Temper tantrums; Vocalizations; Acoustic Features; Anger; Sadness
Over 2,000 adults in their sixties completed the Centrality of Event Scale (CES) for the traumatic or negative event that now troubled them the most and for their most positive life event, as well as measures of current PTSD symptoms, depression, well-being, and personality. Consistent with the notion of a positivity bias in old age, the positive events were judged to be markedly more central to life story and identity than were the negative events. The centrality of positive events was unrelated to measures of PTSD symptoms and emotional distress, whereas the centrality of the negative event showed clear positive correlations with these measures. The centrality of the positive events increased with increasing time since the events, whereas the centrality of the negative events decreased. The life distribution of the positive events showed a marked peak in young adulthood whereas the life distribution for the negative events peaked at the participants’ present age. The positive events were mostly events from the cultural life script – that is, culturally shared representations of the timing of major transitional events. Overall, our findings show that positive and negative autobiographical events relate markedly differently to life story and identity. Positive events become central to life story and identity primarily through their correspondence with cultural norms. Negative events become central through mechanisms associated with emotional distress.
Autobiographical memory; Emotion; Positivity Bias; Trauma; Cultural Life Script
Only recently have researchers begun to examine individual differences in affective forecasting. The present investigation was designed to make a theoretical contribution to this emerging literature by examining the role of emotional intelligence in affective forecasting. Emotional intelligence was hypothesized to be associated with affective forecasting accuracy, memory for emotional reactions, and subsequent improvement on an affective forecasting task involving emotionally-evocative pictures. Results from two studies (N = 511) supported our hypotheses. Emotional intelligence was associated with accuracy in predicting, encoding, and consolidating emotional reactions. Furthermore, emotional intelligence was associated with greater improvement on a second affective forecasting task, with the relationship explained by basic memory processes. Implications for future research on basic and applied decision making are discussed.
affective forecasting; emotional intelligence; individual differences; memory; decision making
Happiness is a key ingredient of well-being. It is thus reasonable to expect that valuing happiness will have beneficial outcomes. We argue that this may not always be the case. Instead, valuing happiness could be self-defeating because the more people value happiness, the more likely they will feel disappointed. This should apply particularly in positive situations, in which people have every reason to be happy. Two studies support this hypothesis. In Study 1, female participants who valued happiness more (vs. less) reported lower happiness when under conditions of low, but not high, life stress. In Study 2, compared to a control group, female participants who were experimentally induced to value happiness reacted less positively to a happy, but not a sad, emotion induction. This effect was mediated by participants’ disappointment at their own feelings. Paradoxically, therefore, valuing happiness may lead people to be less happy just when happiness is within reach.
Four experiments (total N = 391) examined predictions derived from a biologically-based incentive salience theory of approach motivation. In all experiments, judgments indicative of enhanced perceptual salience were exaggerated in the context of positive, relative to neutral or negative, stimuli. In Experiments 1 and 2, positive words were judged to be of a larger size (Experiment 1) and led individuals to judge subsequently presented neutral objects as larger in size (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, similar effects were observed in a mock subliminal presentation paradigm. In Experiment 4, positive word primes were perceived to have been presented for a longer duration of time, again relative to both neutral and negative word primes. Results are discussed in relation to theories of approach motivation, affective priming, and the motivation-perception interface.
Affect; Priming; Approach Motivation; Incentive Salience; Perception
Traditionally, perception was considered to be an encapsulated process that was unaffected by top-down processes like affect. Recent work in vision draws this framework into question by showing that changes in the emotional state of the perceiver can impact many different aspects of visual perception. Here, we extend the relationship between affect and perception into another perceptual modality: audition. Participants were induced into a negative or neutral mood by writing about a frightening or neutral experience in their past. They then listened to a series of short, neutral tones (320 and 640 ms) and rated the loudness and duration of the tones. Participants in a negative mood rated the tones as significantly louder, but not longer, than participants in a neutral mood, suggesting that the difference between the groups was perceptual rather than just a response bias. This research shows for the first time that the role of affect in perceptual processes may be more pervasive than previously considered.
Auditory perception; negative mood; arousal; negative affect; loudness
A literature on young adults reports that morning-type individuals, or “larks,” report higher levels of positive affect compared with evening-type individuals, or “owls” (Clark, Watson, & Leeka, 1989; Hasler et al., 2010). Morning types are relatively rare among young adults but frequent among older adults (May & Hasher, 1998; Mecacci et al., 1986), and here we report on the association between chronotype and affect in a large sample of healthy younger and older adults. Overall, older adults reported higher levels of positive affect than younger adults, with both younger and older morning types reporting higher levels of positive affect and subjective health than age mates who scored lower on morningness. Morningness partially mediated the association between age and positive affect, suggesting that greater morningness tendencies among older adults may contribute to their improved well-being relative to younger adults.
PMID: 22309732 CAMSID: cams2242
chronotype; morningness-eveningness; positive affect; mood; aging
Relations of toddlers’ observed negative affect in high- and low-threat contexts to maternal perceptions of their toddlers’ internalizing problems and to mothers’ responses to emotions (RTE) for fear and sadness were examined. Child-driven, parent-driven, and reciprocal transactional models across 1 year were directly compared. Two-year old toddlers (N=106) participated in lab-based activities to elicit distress, and their negative affect was coded. Mothers completed measures of their child’s internalizing behaviors and their responses to their toddler’s fear and sadness at ages 2 and 3. At age 2, only negative affect in low-threat contexts was associated with greater internalizing problems. Mothers’ punishing and minimizing RTE at age 2 predicted an increase in internalizing problems across 1 year. Age 2 internalizing problems predicted an increase in mother’s use of supportive RTE over time. Results highlight the importance of considering the context of toddlers’ negative affective displays and supported a reciprocal conceptualization of toddlers’ internalizing behaviors and mothers’ RTE.
negative affect; internalizing; emotion socialization; toddlers
Individuals differ in their adjustment to stressful life events, with some exhibiting impaired functioning, including depression, while others exhibit impressive resilience. The present study examined the hypothesis that the ability to deploy a particularly adaptive type of emotion regulation—cognitive reappraisal—may be a protective factor. It expands upon existing research in three ways. First, participants’ ability to use reappraisal (cognitive reappraisal ability: CRA) was measured by using a behavioral challenge that assessed changes in experiential and physiological domains, rather than questionnaires. Second, all participants had been exposed to one or more recent stressful life events, a context in which emotion regulation may be particularly important. Third, a community sample of 78 women aged 20 to 60 was recruited, as opposed to undergraduates. Results indicate that, at low levels of stress, participants’ CRA was not associated with depressive symptoms. However, at high levels of stress, women with high CRA exhibited less depressive symptoms than those with low CRA, suggesting that CRA may be an important moderator of the link between stress and depressive symptoms.
stress; depression; emotion regulation ability; psychophysiology
Older adults show positive gaze preferences, but to what extent are these preferences malleable? Examining the plasticity of age-related gaze preferences may provide a window into their origins. We therefore designed an attentional training procedure to assess the degree to which we could shift gaze and gaze-related mood in both younger and older adults. Participants completed either a positive or negative dot-probe training. Before and after the attentional training, we obtained measures of fixations to negatively-valenced images along with concurrent mood ratings. We found differential malleability of gaze and mood by age: for young adults, negative training resulted in fewer post-training fixations to the most negative areas of the images, whereas positive training appeared more successful in changing older adults’ fixation patterns. Young adults did not differ in their moods as a function of training, whereas older adults in the train negative group had the worst moods after training. Implications for the etiology of age-related positive gaze preferences are considered.
aging; attentional training; emotion; fixation; gaze preferences
In two experiments, we examined the effects of emotional valence and arousal on associative binding. Participants studied negative, positive, and neutral word pairs, followed by an associative recognition test. In Experiment 1, with a short-delayed test, accuracy for intact pairs was equivalent across valences, whereas accuracy for rearranged pairs was lower for negative than for positive and neutral pairs. In Experiment 2, we tested participants after a one-week delay and found that accuracy was greater for intact negative than for intact neutral pairs, whereas rearranged pair accuracy was equivalent across valences. These results suggest that, although negative emotional valence impairs associative binding after a short delay, it may improve binding after a longer delay. The results also suggest that valence, as well as arousal, needs to be considered when examining the effects of emotion on associative memory.
emotional valence; emotional arousal; associative binding
Recent research supports a causal link between attentional bias for negative emotional information and anxiety vulnerability (MacLeod, Rutherford, Campbell, Ebsworthy, & Holker, 2002). However, little is known about the role of positive emotional processing in modulating anxiety reactivity to stress. In the current study we used an attentional training paradigm designed to experimentally manipulate the processing of positive emotional cues. Participants were randomly assigned to complete a computerized probe detection task designed to induce selective processing of positive stimuli or to a sham condition. Following training, participants were exposed to a laboratory stressor (i.e., videotaped speech), and state anxiety and positive affect in response to the stressor were assessed. Results revealed that individual variability in the capacity to develop an attentional bias for positive information following training predicted subsequent emotional responses to the stressor. Moreover, individual differences in social anxiety, but not depression, moderated the effects of the attentional manipulation, such that, higher levels of social anxiety were associated with diminished attentional allocation toward positive cues. The current findings point to the potential value of considering the role of positive emotional processing in anxiety vulnerability.
Anxiety vulnerability; attention; positive; individual differences; social anxiety; information processing