Tessa Miskimen, “Effects of Physical Salience and Learned Aversive Value on the Deployment of Attention”
Mentors: Deborah Hannula & Fred Helmstetter, Psychology
Recent work from our lab indicates that attention capture can be observed for learned fearful stimuli. However, aversive items in our original work were onsets, distinctive not only based on learned value, but also by their sudden appearance in the search display. In this experiment, we eliminate this potential confound and examine whether capture effects persist. Participants in these experiments search for a target stimulus defined by color during a training phase. They are told to make a single eye movement to the target location as quickly and accurately as possible. Shock delivery was dictated by the color of the target stimulus so that one target becomes a conditional stimulus (CS+) and the other a predictor of relative safety (CS-). Next, participants search for a shape target and occasionally, one of the distractors is either the CS+/-, but no shock administered. Results from Experiment 1 indicate that eye movements during test are made in error more often to the CS+ than the CS- and that this occurs even in the absence of explicit knowledge about shock-color contingencies. However, contingency awareness was assessed using an insufficiently sensitive post-experimental questionnaire. In Experiment 2, we attempt to replicate these results with participants making button responses to indicate how likely they are to be shocked. This approach will permit us to make more definitive claims about capture with and without awareness. Finally, this study will provide context for future studies to investigate the effects of fear conditioning on those with anxiety disorders or PTSD.