Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 19 July 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00241

Evidence for arousal-biased competition in perceptual learning

Tae-Ho Lee1, Laurent Itti2 and Mara Mather1,3*
  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • 2Department of Computer Science, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • 3Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

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.

Keywords: bottom-up salience, emotional arousal, optimal gain bias, pop-out search, threat, visual search

Citation: Lee T-H, Itti L and Mather M (2012) Evidence for arousal-biased competition in perceptual learning. Front. Psychology 3:241. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00241

Received: 30 March 2012; Accepted: 22 June 2012;
Published online: 19 July 2012.

Edited by:

Florin Dolcos, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, USA

Reviewed by:

Cosimo Urgesi, University of Udine, Italy
Kathleen Vohs, University of Minnesota, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Lee, Itti and Mather. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Mara Mather, Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, 3715 McClintock Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0191, USA. e-mail: mara.mather@usc.edu

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