Selective attention is not a unitary construct, but is composed of several processes. Attention selection may be guided by low-level stimulus properties, by the emotional value of the stimulus, or more voluntarily by the goals and plans of the observer. Whether these three systems operate independently during attention selection or not remains a debated question. We report results from two studies investigating the extent to which these different attention mechanisms may interact with one another. Using a standard dot probe paradigm wherein effects of exogenous, emotional, and endogenous attention were orthogonally manipulated, we found attentional facilitation effects for each component, indicated by faster decision times for validly, as opposed to invalidly cued targets. Moreover, results confirmed that these three attentional effects added up in a linear fashion. Complementing ERP results allowed us to disentangle the respective contributions of the two reflexive, bottom-up attention processes (exogenous vs. emotional) by showing non-overlapping temporal loci for attentional effects related either to low-level physical properties or the emotional content of the stimulus. These findings suggest that multiple separate attention mechanisms can operate simultaneously to yield a rapid and efficient visual processing of various classes of potentially relevant stimuli.
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