Emotional stimuli similarly disrupt attention in both visual fields

Ella K. Moeck, Jenna L. Zhao, Steven B. Most, Nicole A. Thomas, Melanie K. T. Takarangi

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People often need to filter relevant from irrelevant information. Irrelevant emotional distractors interrupt this process. But does the degree to which emotional distractors disrupt attention depend on which visual field they appear in? We thought it might for two reasons: (1) people pay slightly more attention to the left than the right visual field, and (2) some research suggests the right-hemisphere (which, in early visual processing, receives left visual field input) has areas specialised for processing emotion. Participants viewed a rapid image-stream in each visual field and reported the rotation of an embedded neutral target preceded by a negative or neutral distractor. We predicted that the degree to which negative (vs. neutral) distractors impaired target detection would be larger when targets appeared in the left than the right stream. This hypothesis was supported, but only when the distractor and target could appear in the same or opposite stream as each other (Experiments 2a–b), not when they always appeared in the same stream as each other (Experiments 1a–1b). However, this effect was driven by superior left-stream accuracy following neutral distractors, and similar left- and right-stream accuracy following negative distractors. Emotional distractors therefore override visuospatial asymmetries and disrupt attention, regardless of visual field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-649
Number of pages17
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
Early online date13 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • emotion
  • emotion-induced blindness
  • hemispheric asymmetries
  • visual attention


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