Tagging multiple emotional stimuli : negative valence has little benefit

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Watson, Derrick G. ; Blagrove, Elisabeth (2012)

Six experiments examined the influence of emotional valence on the tagging and enumeration of multiple targets. Experiments 1, 5 and 6 found that there was no difference in the efficiency of tagging/enumerating multiple negative or positive stimuli. Experiment 2 showed that, when neutral-expression face distractors were present, enumerating negative targets was faster overall, but was only more efficient for small numbers of targets. Experiments 3 and 4 determined that this negative target advantage was most likely caused by increased attentional guidance to negatively-valenced stimuli and was not based on simple visual feature differences. The findings suggest that a multiple-target negative stimulus advantage will only occur under conditions of attentional competition, and for relatively small numbers of targets. The results are discussed in relation to theories of multiple- and single-item processing, threat-priority mechanisms, and the types of representations that support different attentional tasks.
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