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Evidence for Arousal-Biased Competition in Perceptual Learning

Frontiers in Psychology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00241
  • Psychology
  • Original Research


Arousal-biased competition theory predicts that arousal biases competition in favor of perceptually salient stimuli and against non-salient stimuli (Mather and Sutherland, 2011). The current study tested this hypothesis by having observers complete many trials in a visual search task in which the target either always was salient (a 55° tilted line among 80° distractors) or non-salient (a 55° tilted line among 50° distractors). Each participant completed one session in an emotional condition, in which visual search trials were preceded by negative arousing images, and one session in a non-emotional condition, in which the arousing images were replaced with neutral images (with session order counterbalanced). Test trials in which the target line had to be selected from among a set of lines with different tilts revealed that the emotional condition enhanced identification of the salient target line tilt but impaired identification of the non-salient target line tilt. Thus, arousal enhanced perceptual learning of salient stimuli but impaired perceptual learning of non-salient stimuli.

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