Load-dependent modulation of affective picture processing

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2005 Dec;5(4):388-95. doi: 10.3758/cabn.5.4.388.


Because of the biological significance of emotional stimuli, their processing is considered largely automatic. In the study reported herein, we tested the alternative hypothesis-namely, that the processing of emotional stimuli requires some level of attention. Our experiments utilized highly negative and arousing visual stimuli comprising mutilated bodies. All experiments employed a single task, which consisted of determining whether two peripheral bars were like oriented or not, thereby eliminating potential task-difference confounds that may have contaminated prior studies. Our results revealed that task-irrelevant unpleasant images slowed reaction time during the performance of the main task. Such interference was modulated by task difficulty as well as by alcohol consumption, showing that the processing of emotional visual stimuli is not immune to attentional manipulations. These results suggest that it is essential to utilize attentional manipulations that more fully consume attentional resources in order to demonstrate that the processing of emotional stimuli is resource limited.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Arousal*
  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Fields