Differences in Attention to Emotional Images: Use of a Classical Conditioning Procedure

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Kysor, Sarah
Spatial attention is commonly assessed using a Posner precueing procedure. Several studies investigated attention using a modified version of this procedure to determine if emotional stimuli can influence attention. For instance, attention can be controlled by the emotional salience of the stimuli and can influence the processing of subsequent stimuli. However, less has been studied regarding attention and classical conditioning. This study will utilize a modified precueing procedure adopted from Stormark, Hugdahl, and Posner (1999). First, an emotional Pavlovian conditioned stimulus (CS; e.g., a framed rectangle) will be established by pairing the putative CS with a positive, negative, or neutral emotional image (unconditioned stimulus). Such training should establish an emotional response to the otherwise innocuous CS. In the following test phase, the CS will serve as a cue in the precueing procedure. Differences in reaction times (RTs) for valid and invalid trials will index the effectiveness of the cue. Moreover, an eye tracker will be used to detect fixations. We expect that RTs will be lower overall when the cue is an emotional CS. More importantly, we hypothesize that the difference between valid and invalid trials will be smaller when the cue is an emotional CS than in a control condition. This study will identify the situations in which emotional stimuli can influence attention. Keywords: Attention, classical conditioning, emotional images, reaction times