Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 654–661 | Cite as

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

  • Steven B. MostEmail author
  • Marvin M. Chun
  • David M. Widders
  • David H. Zald
Brief Reports


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.


Attentional Blink Emotional Stimulus Rapid Serial Visual Presentation Harm Avoidance Neutral Picture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anderson, A. K., &Phelps, E. A. (2001). Lesions of the human amygdala impair enhanced perception of emotionally salient events.Nature,411, 305–309.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnell, K. M., Killman, K., & Fijavz, D. (2004, May).Blinded by emotions: Target misses follow attentional capture by arousing distractors in RSVP. Poster presented at the 4th Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, Sarasota, FL.Google Scholar
  3. Barnard, P. J., Ramponi, C., Battye, G., &Mackintosh, B. (2005). Anxiety and the deployment of visual attention over time.Visual Cognition,12, 181–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnard, P. J., Scott, S., Taylor, J., &Knightly, W. (2004). Paying attention to meaning.Psychological Science,15, 179–186.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bishop, S., Duncan, J., Brett, M., &Lawrence, A. D. (2004). Prefrontal cortical function and anxiety: Controlling attention to threatrelated stimuli.Nature Neuroscience,7, 184–188.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Chun, M. M., &Marois, R. (2002). The dark side of visual attention.Current Opinion in Neurobiology,12, 184–189.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Chun, M. M., &Potter, M. C. (1995). A two-stage model for multiple target detection in rapid serial visual presentation.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance,21, 109–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cloninger, C. R., Przybeck, T. R., &Svrakic, D. M. (1991). The Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire: U.S. normative data.Psychological Reports,69, 1047–1057.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. de Fockert, J. W., Rees, G., Frith, C. D., &Lavie, N. (2001). The role of working memory in visual selective attention.Science,291, 1803–1806.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Derryberry, D., &Reed, M. A. (2002). Anxiety-related attentional biases and their regulation by attentional control.Journal of Abnormal Psychology,111, 225–236.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Eysenck, M. W., &Calvo, M. G. (1992). Anxiety and performance: The processing efficiency theory.Cognition & Emotion,6, 409–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Folk, C. L., Leber, A. B., &Egeth, H. E. (2002). Made you blink! Contingent attentional capture produces a spatial blink.Perception & Psychophysics,64, 741–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fox, E., Russo, R., Bowles, R., &Dutton, K. (2001). Do threatening stimuli draw or hold visual attention in subclinical anxiety?Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,130, 681–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Harris, C. R., &Pashler, H. (2004). Attention and the processing of emotional words and names: Not so special after all.Psychological Science,15, 171–178.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., &Cuthbert, B. N. (2001).International Affective Picture System (IAPS): Instruction manual and affective ratings (Tech. Rep. No. A-5). Gainesville: University of Florida, Center for Research in Psychophysiology.Google Scholar
  16. Mack, A., &Rock, I. (1998).Inattentional blindness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  17. MacLeod, C., Mathews, A., &Tata, P. (1986). Attentional bias in emotional disorders.Journal of Abnormal Psychology,95, 15–20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Marois, R., Todd, J. J., &Gilbert, C. M. (2003). Surprise blindness: A distinct form of attentional limit to explicit perception? [Abstract].Journal of Vision,3, 738a, available at, doi:10.1167/3.9.738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mathews, A., &Mackintosh, B. (1998). A cognitive model of selective processing in anxiety.Cognitive Therapy & Research,22, 539–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McNally, R. J. (1996). Cognitive bias in the anxiety disorders.Nebraska Symposium on Motivation,43, 211–250.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Most, S. B., Scholl, B. J., Clifford, E. R., &Simons, D. J. (2005). What you see is what you set: Sustained inattentional blindness and the capture of awareness.Psychological Review,112, 217–242.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Most, S. B., Simons, D. J., Scholl, B. J., Jimenez, R., Clifford, E., &Chabris, C. F. (2001). How not to be seen: The contribution of similarity and selective ignoring to sustained inattentional blindness.Psychological Science,12, 9–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Öhman, A., Flykt, A., &Esteves, F. (2001). Emotion drives attention: Detecting the snake in the grass.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,130, 466–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pashler, H., &Shiu, L. P. (1999). Do images involuntarily trigger search? A test of Pillsbury’s hypothesis.Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,6, 445–448.Google Scholar
  25. Pessoa, L., McKenna, M., Gutierrez, E., &Ungerleider, L. G. (2002). Neural processing of emotional faces requires attention.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,99, 11458–11463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pratto, F., &John, O. P. (1991). Automatic vigilance: The attentiongrabbing power of negative social information.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,61, 380–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., &Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: An attentional blink?Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance,18, 849–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schupp, H. T., Junghöfer, M., Weike, A. I., &Hamm, A. O. (2004). The selective processing of briefly presented affective pictures: An ERP analysis.Psychophysiology,41, 441–449.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Vuilleumier, P., Armony, J. L., Driver, J., &Dolan, R. J. (2001). Effects of attention and emotion on face processing in the human brain: An event-related fMRI study.Neuron,30, 829–841.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven B. Most
    • 1
  • Marvin M. Chun
    • 1
  • David M. Widders
    • 1
  • David H. Zald
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew Haven
  2. 2.Vanderbilt UniversityNashville

Personalised recommendations