Publication Date

Summer 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Andrew Mienaltowski (Director), Farley Norman, and Lance Hahn

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


Emotional cues within the environment capture our attention and influence how we perceive our surroundings. Past research has shown that emotional cues presented before the detection of a perceptual gap can actually impair the perception of elementary visual features (e.g., the lack of detail creating a spatial gap) while simultaneously improving the perception of fast temporal features of vision (e.g., the rapid onset, offset, and re-emergence of a stimulus). This effect has been attributed to amygdalar enhancements of visual inputs conveying emotional features along magnocellular channels. The current study compared participants’ ability to detect spatial and temporal gaps in simple stimuli (a Landolt Circle) after first being exposed to a facial cue in the periphery. The study was an attempt to replicate past research using younger adult samples while also extending these findings to an older adult sample. Unlike younger adults, older adults generally display an attentional bias toward positive instead of negative emotional facial expressions. It is not clear if this positivity bias is strictly driven by cognitive control processes or if there is a change in the human visual system with age that reduces the amplification of negative emotive expressions by the amygdala. The current study used psychophysical data to determine if the rapid presentation of an emotional cue and subsequent perceptual target to older adults leads to the same benefit to temporal vision evinced by younger adults or if amygdalocortical enhancements to perception degrade with age. The current study was only able to partly replicate findings from past research. The negative facial cues that were presented in the periphery did not lead to an enhancement in temporal gap detection for the younger adult sample nor a reduction in spatial gap detection. In fact, the opposite was found. Younger adults’ spatial gap detection benefited from the negative emotional cues. The negative and neutral emotional cues had no effect on the older adult sample. The older adults’ performance on both gap detection tasks was not impacted by the emotional cues


Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychology | Social Psychology