You do it to yourself: Attentional capture by threat-signaling stimuli persists even when entirely counterproductive. Academic Article uri icon


  • Recent research has demonstrated a counterproductive attentional bias toward threat-related stimuli: under conditions in which fixating on a color distractor stimulus sometimes resulted in an immediate shock, participants were nevertheless more likely to look at this threat-related distractor than a neutral distractor matched for physical salience. However, participants in that prior research may not have realized that their own actions caused delivery of aversive outcomes, such that monitoring for the threat-related distractor may not have been counterproductive from participants' perspective. In Experiment 1 of the current study, we demonstrate that the attentional bias to the threat-related distractor persists (and indeed, becomes stronger) when participants are made explicitly aware that looking at this stimulus is the sole cause of aversive events, which are otherwise avoidable. In Experiment 2 we replicate the bias in informed participants under conditions in which there is additional (reward-driven) motivation to avoid attending to distractors. Taken together with prior findings, the observation of an attentional bias toward the threat-related distractor under these explicitly counterproductive conditions provides strong support for the idea that threat-related stimuli are automatically prioritized by our attentional system. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

published proceedings

  • Emotion

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Mikhael, S., Watson, P., Anderson, B. A., & Le Pelley, M. E.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Mikhael, Samantha||Watson, Poppy||Anderson, Brian A||Le Pelley, Mike E

publication date

  • December 2021