, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 654-661

Attentional rubbernecking: Cognitive control and personality in emotion-induced blindness


Emotional stimuli often attract attention, but at what cost to the processing of other stimuli? Given the potential costs, to what degree can people override emotion-based attentional biases? In Experiment 1, participants searched for a single target within a rapid serial visual presentation of pictures; an irrelevant, emotionally negative or neutral picture preceded the target by either two or eight items. At the shorter lag, negative pictures spontaneously induced greater deficits in target processing than neutral pictures did. Thus, attentional biases to emotional information induced a temporary inability to process stimuli that people actively sought. Experiment 2 revealed that participants could reduce this effect through attentional strategy, but that the extent of this reduction was related to their level of the personality traitharm avoidance. Participants lower in harm avoidance were able to reduce emotioninduced blindness under conditions designed to facilitate the ignoring of the emotional stimuli. Those higher in harm avoidance were unable to do so.

Portions of Experiment 1 were presented at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, November 2003. S.B.M. was supported by NIH NRSA MH66572. M.M.C. was supported in part by NIH Grant EY014193.