Task motivation increases control over emotional and neutral distraction

A. Maddock, L Bell, David Carmel, G. M. Grimshaw

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Emotional stimuli compete more effectively for our attention than neutral stimuli. Prioritised emotional information usually guides behaviour in adaptive ways. However, when emotional stimuli are irrelevant to our current goals, they can be distracting. To inhibit distractors, people flexibly shift between more and less effective cognitive control strategies. Because more effective strategies require more effort, motivational factors may influence the strategy that is used. In non-emotional contexts, rewarding successful task performance encourages effective control by guiding attention towards goal-relevant and away from goal-irrelevant stimuli. However, it is unclear whether rewards can similarly increase control over task-irrelevant emotional stimuli. In the current study, task-irrelevant neutral and emotional distractor images were presented peripherally while participants completed a simple letter discrimination task near fixation. In a between-subjects manipulation, one group was rewarded with money for fast and accurate task performance, while the other received no reward. Distraction was measured as the difference between distractor-present and distractor-absent trial RTs. Both groups showed more distraction by emotional images (positive and negative) than neutral images. Importantly, reward reduced distraction by neutral and emotional images equally. Thus, motivation towards the task goal enhanced sustained cognitive control of both neutral and emotional distraction. Results will be compared to an ongoing study in which the possibility of reward is cued from trial to trial. This manipulation will show us whether people can dynamically shift cognitive control over emotional and neutral distraction. Motivational manipulations may be a fruitful way of enhancing goal-relevant processing while inhibiting distraction from irrelevant emotional information.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2015
EventThe 5th Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society conference - Auckland, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Nov 2015 → …


ConferenceThe 5th Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period26/11/15 → …


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