We investigated how viewing task-irrelevant emotional pictures affects the performance of a subsequent nonemotional visual detection task. Subjects performed target-detection trials following the offset of individual unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral pictures. Sustained interference occurred when subjects viewed unpleasant pictures (mutilated bodies) in a sequential, "blocked" fashion. Such slowing down of reaction time appeared to build up with time, consistent with the instatement of a defensive emotional state. With a randomized picture presentation, only a transient interference effect was observed, consistent with increased attentional demands during the processing of unpleasant pictures. During blocked presentation of affiliative pleasant pictures, reaction times were faster, suggesting the activation of appetitive motivational systems. Ultimately, both attentional and motivational systems are intricately tied in the brain and, together, determine behavior.
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