Threat priming diminishes the gaze cueing effect

Cognition and Emotion (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Gaze cueing effect (GCE) refers to attention orienting towards the gazed-at location, characterised by faster responses to gazed-at than non-gazed-at stimuli. A previous study investigated the effects of affective priming on GCE and reported that threatening primes enhanced GCE. However, it remains unknown whether the threat or heightened arousal potentiated GCE. We investigated how highly arousing threatening and positive primes, compared to low arousing neutral primes modulate GCE. After a brief exposure to an affective prime (pictures of threat or erotica) or a neutral prime, participants detected an asterisk validly or invalidly cued by the gaze direction of a neutral face. The results showed that the threatening primes diminished the magnitude of GCE. The highly arousing positive primes did not have an effect on GCE. Further analyses showed that, as compared to neutral priming, the reaction times after threatening primes were shortened on invalid trials. This finding was interpreted to suggest that the threatening primes enhanced goal-directed target detection and attenuated attention orienting by irrelevant gaze cues via improving executive control. In sum, the present findings indicate that threat priming modulates GCE, not because of heightened arousal but because of the threat.

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