Two studies investigated the effects of conditioning to masked stimuli on visuospatial attention. During the conditioning phase, masked snakes and spiders were paired with a burst of white noise, or paired with an innocuous tone, in the conditioned stimulus (CS)+ and CS- conditions, respectively. Attentional allocation to the CSs was then assessed with a visual probe task, in which the CSs were presented unmasked (Experiment 1) or both unmasked and masked (Experiment 2), together with fear-irrelevant control stimuli (flowers and mushrooms). In Experiment 1, participants preferentially allocated attention to CS+ relative to control stimuli. Experiment 2 suggested that this attentional bias depended on the perceived aversiveness of the unconditioned stimulus and did not require conscious recognition of the CSs during both acquisition and expression.
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