Responding to threat: Hemispheric asymmetries and interhemispheric division of input

Rebecca J. Compton, Wendy Heller, Marie T. Banich, Patrick A. Palmieri, Gregory A. Miller
2000 Neuropsychology  
This investigation examined how hemispheric asymmetry and interhemispheric processing contribute to attentional biases toward emotional information. Participants (n = 88) named the color of lateralized squares presented concurrently with neutral, positive, or threatening words. A left-bemispbere advantage in color naming was reduced when distractors were emotional, suggesting right-hemisphere priming by emotional stimuli. Furthermore, the advantage of dividing the word and color across visual
more » ... lor across visual fields was increased for emotion words when they were frequently presented, indicating a strategic use of interhemispberic division of labor to reduce the distracting effect of emotional words. Finally, participants with high levels of anxious apprehension were most likely to make use of this interhemispheric processing strategy, supporting a processing efficiency theory of cognitive function in anxiety. Attention is a process that directs cognitive resources to stimuli or attributes of the world that are behaviorally relevant to the organism. Given finite cognitive resources, an efficient system selects relevant features of the environment for enhanced processing. According to this conception of selective attention, emotional stimuli, which typically have high behavioral significance, may be especially likely to capture attention. Supporting this notion, participants are slower to shift attention away from cues with emotional significance compared with emotionally neutral cues (Stormark, Nordby, & Hugdahl, 1995). Furthermore, mood state and personality modulate the extent to which attention is captured by emotional stimuli. A large body of evidence suggests, for example, that anxious individuals are especially likely to demonstrate an enhanced attentional bias toward threatening information (e.g.
doi:10.1037/0894-4105.14.2.254 fatcat:bejq7wohnna3bi5vtvklr6xibi