Emotion drives attention: detecting the snake in the grass

Arne Öhman*, Anders Flykt, Francisco Esteves

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1901 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Participants searched for discrepant fear-relevant pictures (snakes or spiders) in grid-pattern arrays of fear-irrelevant pictures belonging to the same category (flowers or mushrooms) and vice versa. Fear-relevant pictures were found more quickly than fear-irrelevant ones. Fear-relevant, but not fear-irrelevant, search was unaffected by the location of the target in the display and by the number of distractors, which suggests parallel search for fear-relevant targets and serial search for fear-irrelevant targets. Participants specifically fearful of snakes but not spiders (or vice versa) showed facilitated search for the feared objects but did not differ from controls in search for nonfeared fear-relevant or fear-irrelevant, targets. Thus, evolutionary relevant threatening stimuli were effective in capturing attention, and this effect was further facilitated if the stimulus was emotionally provocative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-478
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume130
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2001
Externally publishedYes

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