The Effect of Fear and Anger on Selective Attention

  • Finucane A
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This experiment examined the effects of two discrete negative emotions, fear and anger, on selective attention. A within-subjects design was used, and all participants (N = 98) experienced the control, anger, and fear conditions. During each condition, participants viewed a film clip eliciting the target emotion and subsequently completed a flanker task and emotion report. Selective attention costs were assessed by comparing reaction times (RTs) on congruent (baseline) trials with RTs on incongruent trials. There was a significant interaction between emotion condition (control, anger, fear) and flanker type (congruent, incongruent). Contrasts further revealed a significant interaction between emotion and flanker type when comparing RTs in the control and fear conditions, and a marginally significant interaction when comparing RTs in the control and anger conditions. This indicates that selective attention costs were significantly lower in the fear compared to the control condition and were marginally lower in the anger compared with the control condition. Further analysis of participants reporting heightened anger in the anger condition revealed significantly lower selective attention costs during anger compared to a control state. These findings support the general prediction that high arousal negative emotional states inhibit processing of nontarget information and enhance selective attention. This study is the first to show an enhancing effect of anger on selective attention. It also offers convergent evidence to studies that have previously shown an influence of fear on attentional focus using the global-local paradigm. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved).

Author-supplied keywords

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Flanker task
  • Selective attention

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  • Anne M. Finucane

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