The current study examines whether aversively conditioned stimuli can modulate attention to such a degree that they impair the perception of subsequently presented nonemotional targets. In the initial phase of this study, participants viewed 3 categories of photographs, 1 of which was paired with an aversive noise. Following conditioning, participants searched for a target embedded within a series of 17 rapidly presented images on each trial. Critically, a conditioned or unconditioned item from the initial phase appeared 200 ms or 800 ms before the target. At 200-ms lags but not 800-ms lags, the conditioned images impaired target detection relative to the other distractors. Thus, temporary visual deficits can be induced by otherwise neutral distractors whose aversive associations have only recently been learned.
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