Affective influences on top-down visual attention

Bendall, RCA ORCID: 2021, Affective influences on top-down visual attention , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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The mechanisms supporting emotional processing and the allocation of visual attention share common neural substrates and both draw upon limited top-down resources. Attention is biased towards emotional stimuli and these biases are suggested to be a key mechanism in the development of psychopathology. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the impact of affective influences on visual attention. This was achieved using three different approaches: exploring the impact of emotion, the effects of stimuli valence, and the contribution of inter-individual differences in affective traits. Across five experiments, two experimental paradigms incorporating real-world scenes were utilised: a change detection flicker task, and a visual search task. In two experiments prefrontal cortex activity was recorded using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Overall, when considered in isolation, induced emotion had no impact on attention. However, negative emotion did influence prefrontal cortex activation. Moreover, induced emotion was shown to interact with extraversion and cognitive reappraisal to influence attention. In addition, when considering stimuli valence, accuracy to identify targets was reduced in task-irrelevant positively-valenced real-world scenes, and target identification was slower in negatively-valenced real-world scenes, suggesting that negative and positive emotional valence impact attention in different ways. Moreover, higher trait levels of extraversion, cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression were shown to improve visual search performance. These findings suggest that emotion may not have a direct influence upon attention conflicting with theoretical models that argue for the impact of emotion on attention. Additionally, the findings reveal direct and interactive effects of affective traits on visual search, supporting the argument that inter-individual differences influence the competition between emotion and attention for top-down resources. These findings are discussed in relation to models of emotion-attention interactions. They provide novel insights into the attentional processing of healthy individuals and have implications for clinically focussed research investigating the psychopathology of affective disorders.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Thompson, C (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society > Centre for Health Sciences Research
Depositing User: Dr Robert Bendall
Date Deposited: 05 Aug 2021 09:18
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:55

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