Barking at Emotionally-Laden Words: The Role of Attention
Haskell, Christie Rose Marie
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It has long been held that processing at the single word level during reading is automatic. However, research has recently begun to emerge that challenges this view. The literature surrounding the processing of emotion while recognizing printed words is limited, but some findings in the processing of emotion in faces suggest that negative stimuli (especially threat stimuli) promote quick and accurate processing. The purpose of the present experiments is to investigate whether negative emotionally-laden words are afforded priority processing in visual word recognition compared to positive emotionally-laden words. Two experiments are reported that manipulated the lexicality and valence of the target and distractor stimuli (Experiments 1 & 2), the validity of a spatial pre-cue (Experiments 1 & 2), and the presence of a distractor item (Experiment 2). Participants were asked to determine whether the target stimulus spelled a word or not. Response times on valid trials were faster compared to invalid trials, response times to negative emotionally-laden words were slower compared to positive emotionally-laden words, and the presence of a distractor item encouraged better focus on the target stimuli in the absence of any evidence that the valence of the distractor itself was processed. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that visual word recognition is not automatic given that processing benefited from the accurate direction of spatial attention. Furthermore, negative emotionally-laden words benefited equally compared to positive emotionally-laden words and therefore provide no evidence of automatic processing.