The persistence of distraction: a study of attentional biases by fear, faces, and context.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Efficient processing of the visual world requires that distracting items be avoided, or at least rapidly disengaged from. The mechanisms by which highly salient, yet irrelevant, stimuli lead to distraction, however, are not well understood. Here, we utilized a particularly strong type of distractor--images of human faces--to investigate the mechanisms of distraction and the involuntarily biasing of attention. Across three experiments using a novel discrimination task, we provided new evidence that the robust distraction triggered by faces may not reflect enhanced attraction but, instead, may reflect an extended holding of attention. Specifically, the onset of a task-irrelevant distractor initially impaired target performance regardless of the identity of that distractor (fearful faces, neutral faces, or places). In contrast, an extended period of distraction was observed only when the distractor was a face. Our results thus demonstrate two distinct mechanisms contributing to distraction: an initial involuntary capture to any sudden event and a subsequent holding of attention to a potentially meaningful, yet task-irrelevant stimulus-in this case, a human face. Critically, the latter holding of attention by faces was not unique to fearful faces but also occurred for neutral faces. The present results dissociate attentional capture from hold in another way as well, since the capture occurred regardless of the nature of the distractors, but the extended holding of attention was dependent upon the ongoing distractor context.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Parks, EL; Kim, S-Y; Hopfinger, JB

Published Date

  • December 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1501 - 1508

PubMed ID

  • 24696390

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1531-5320

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1069-9384

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13423-014-0615-4


  • eng