Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize: Anger and Visual Attention to Threats and Rewards

  • Ford B
  • Tamir M
  • Brunyé T
 et al. 
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Abstract

People's emotional states influence what they focus their attention on in their environment. For example, fear focuses people's attention on threats, whereas excitement may focus their attention on rewards. This study examined the effect of anger on overt visual attention to threats and rewards. Anger is an unpleasant emotion associated with approach motivation. If the effect of emotion on visual attention depends on valence, we would expect anger to focus people's attention on threats. If, however, the effect of emotion on visual attention depends on motivation, we would expect anger to focus people's attention on rewards. Using an eye tracker, we examined the effects of anger, fear, excitement, and a neutral emotional state on participants' overt visual attention to threatening, rewarding, and control images. We found that anger increased visual attention to rewarding information, but not to threatening information. These findings demonstrate that anger increases attention to potential rewards and suggest that the effects of emotions on visual attention are motivationally driven.

Author-supplied keywords

  • emotions
  • motivation
  • rewards
  • threat
  • visual attention

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Authors

  • Brett Q. Ford

  • Maya Tamir

  • William R. Shirer

  • Caroline R. Mahoney

  • Holly A. Taylor

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