Don't look now: Attentional avoidance of emotionally-valenced cues

Bundy Mackintosh, Andrew Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Citations (Scopus)


It is often assumed that emotional stimuli receive high priority for processing, and that the distinction between positive and negative valence is fundamental. However, studies of attention to symbolic stimuli, such as words of different valence, have proved inconclusive. In four experiments, control over the emotional attributes of previously neutral line sketches was achieved by associating them with valenced captions. When these newly valenced sketches were paired with neutral stimuli in an attentional search task, they elicited equivalent attentional avoidance. In contrast, in a final experiment, strongly valenced colour pictures captured attention. We suggest that a mechanism acting to limit unnecessary interruptions of ongoing behaviour can inhibit processing of relatively mild emotional stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-646
Number of pages24
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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