Publication Date

Summer 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Andrew Mienaltowski (Director), Sharon Mutter, and Matthew Shake

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


The attentional blink occurs when detection of a second target (T2) is impaired when it occurs between 180 to 450 ms after the first target (T1) in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). The attentional blink can be affected by relevant emotional stimuli, like emotional faces, such that an emotional T1 enhances the attentional blink, and an emotional T2 attenuates it. However, not all studies use the same type of face stimuli, and there is debate over whether schematic and photo-realistic faces are processed in the same way. Furthermore, the effect of emotion on the attentional blink should differ with age, given the tendency for younger adults to display a negativity bias and for older adults to display a positivity effect. Very little research has been conducted on the attentional blink with emotional stimuli in older adults. In fact, the effect of emotional faces, which are arguably more salient stimuli than other stimuli such as emotional words, on the attentional blink has not been investigated in older adults. Therefore, this study sought to examine the impact of emotional faces on the attentional blink in younger and older adults using photo-realistic faces with angry, happy, and neutral expressions as targets in a RSVP. Although older adults did perform worse overall, there were no age differences in the effect of emotion on the attentional blink. Angry faces, as well as happy faces to a limited extent, increased the attentional blink when they served as T1. Neither the angry or happy faces as T2 were able to attenuate the blink. Given that emotional faces affected the attentional blink at T1 but not at T2, it may be the case that the emotional expressions served to maintain attention, rather than to capture it. Future studies are necessary to test this idea, as well as to more directly test the differential effect of emotional photorealistic and schematic faces on the attentional blink.


Applied Behavior Analysis | Cognitive Psychology | Gerontology