, Volume 70, Issue 8, pp 1416-1434

Attentional effects of negative faces: Top-down contingent or involuntary?

Abstract

Recent research has substantiated that schematic negative faces are found more efficiently than positive faces among crowds of distractor faces of varying set sizes. The present study asks whether this relative search asymmetry (RSA) is intention driven or due to involuntary attentional capture. To that aim, participants were first tested in a condition in which negative and positive faces were searched for, and then in a condition in which negative or positive schematic faces appeared at chance level at the position of the target (valid trials) or of a distractor (invalid trials), the faces thus being task irrelevant (the 1/n paradigm). The expected search benefit for valid negative-face target trials most clearly occurred when participants searched for a target defined by a conjunction of color and position; when the target was defined either by an orientation or color singleton, we found rather weak or no evidence for involuntary attention capture by negative faces. We see the results as being (1) evidence that the RSA is partly based on stimulus-driven factors that occur independently of the intention to search for a positive or negative face, and (2) consistent with the assumption that the effects are mainly due to a more efficient rejection of positive-face than of negative-face distractors, rather than being due to attentional capture by the target