Ample evidence suggests that emotion affects visual perception. Here we asked how arousal, induced by emotional stimuli and modulated by anxiety trait, biases competition among stimuli to favor the perceptually conspicuous ones. We first demonstrated that negatively arousing pictures impaired subsequent discrimination of cars, but not the discrimination of faces, among individuals with high-trait anxiety. To directly demonstrate the role of attention in the emotional modulations of visual perception, we used a modified exogenous cuing task, showing that for anxious individuals, a negatively arousing cue elicited cost when processing cars but not faces. These results indicate that arousal biases attention toward perceptually salient stimuli, allowing those with high-trait anxiety to disengage attention from an arousing stimulus more easily when it is followed by a face. The results suggest that attention modulates the effects of emotion on perception, leading to higher resilience of high-priority stimuli to arousal-biased competition.
- faces, arousal-biased competition, attention, arousal, anxiety