Motivation enhances control of positive and negative emotional distractions

A.T. Walsh, D. Carmel, D. Harper, G.M. Grimshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Using cognitive control to ignore distractions is essential for successfully achieving our goals. In emotionally-neutral contexts, motivation can reduce interference from irrelevant stimuli by enhancing cognitive control. However, attention is commonly biased towards emotional stimuli, making them potent distractors. Can motivation aid control of emotional distractions, and does it do so similarly for positive and negative stimuli? Here, we examined how task motivation influences control of distraction from positive, negative, and neutral scenes. Participants completed a simple perceptual task while attempting to ignore task-irrelevant images. One group received monetary reward for fast and accurate task performance; another (control) group did not. Overall, both negative (mutilation) and positive (erotic) images caused greater slowing of responses than neutral images of people, but emotional distraction was reduced with reward. Crucially, despite the different motivational directions associated with negative and positive stimuli, reward reduced negative and positive distraction equally. Our findings suggest that motivation may encourage the use of a sustained proactive control strategy that can effectively reduce the impact of emotional distraction. © 2017 Psychonomic Society, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1556–1562
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number4
Early online date3 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cognitive control
  • distraction
  • emotion
  • motivation
  • reward


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