The influence of threat and aversive motivation on conflict processing in the Stroop task.
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Motivated attention can be driven by the desire to maximize gains or escape punishment. In the Stroop task, when rewards can be obtained by responding quickly to certain colors, corresponding color words are prioritized and produce enhanced interference, suggesting transfer of an attentional bias from color hues to color words. In the present study, we replicated this transfer effect using reward and conducted a parallel experiment exchanging the prospect of reward (appetitive motivation) with the opportunity to avert punishment (aversive motivation). Participants were required to identify the color (hue) of color words and received electric shocks for responses to particular hues that were slow or incorrect. Shock-related words similarly impaired color-ink naming performance. In contrast to prior studies with reward, however, responding to hues associated with shock was also impaired, with threat producing an increase in error rate that ironically resulted in more frequent shocks. Our results suggest that aversive and appetitive motivation affect attention to task-relevant information differently, although each produces a common bias in automatic stimulus processing presumably driven by valence.