Implicit affective cues and attentional tuning: an integrative review

Psychol Bull. 2010 Sep;136(5):875-93. doi: 10.1037/a0020495.


A large and growing number of studies support the notion that arousing positive emotional states expand, and that arousing negative states constrict, the scope of attention on both the perceptual and conceptual levels. However, these studies have predominantly involved the manipulation or measurement of conscious emotional experiences (e.g., subjective feelings of happiness or anxiety). This raises the question: Do cues that are merely associated with benign versus threatening situations but do not elicit conscious feelings of positive or negative emotional arousal independently expand or contract attentional scope? Integrating theoretical advances in affective neuroscience, positive psychology, and social cognition, the authors propose that rudimentary intero- and exteroceptive stimuli may indeed become associated with the onset of arousing positive or negative emotional states and/or with appraisals that the environment is benign or threatening and thereby come to moderate the scope of attention in the absence of conscious emotional experience. Specifically, implicit "benign situation" cues are posited to broaden, and implicit "threatening situation" cues to narrow, the range of both perceptual and conceptual attentional selection. An extensive array of research findings involving a diverse set of such implicit affective cues (e.g., enactment of approach and avoidance behaviors, incidental exposure to colors signaling safety vs. danger) is marshaled in support of this proposition. Potential alternative explanations for and moderators of these attentional tuning effects, as well as their higher level neuropsychological underpinnings, are also discussed along with prospective extensions to a range of other situational cues and domains of social cognitive processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Perception / physiology