No emotional 'pop-out' effect in natural scene viewing

David J. Acunzo, J. M. Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been shown that attention is drawn toward emotional stimuli. In particular, eye movement research suggests that gaze is attracted toward emotional stimuli in an unconscious, automated manner. We addressed whether this effect remains when emotional targets are embedded within complex real-world scenes. Eye movements were recorded while participants memorized natural images. Each image contained an item that was either neutral, such as a bag, or emotional, such as a snake or a couple hugging. We found no latency difference for the first target fixation between the emotional and neutral conditions, suggesting no extrafoveal “pop-out” effect of emotional targets.
However, once detected, emotional targets held attention for a longer time than neutral targets. The failure of emotional items to attract attention seems to contradict previous eye-movement research using emotional stimuli. However, our results are consistent with studies examining semantic drive of overt attention in natural scenes. Interpretations of the results in terms of perceptual and attentional load are provided.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1134-43
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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