Emotional modulation of attention orienting: A classical conditioning study



Emotional modulation of attention shifting was investigated in Posner’s (1980) spatial orienting task by conditioning the attention cue to an aversive white noise. Prior to the attention task, the Conditioning group received a 90dB white noise unconditioned stimulus (UCS) contingent upon the frame-lit rectangle attention cue, while the Control group received non-contingent presentations. The Conditioning group evidenced greater skin conductance responses to the frame-lit rectangle in the conditioning phase, reflecting an electrodermal conditioned response. In the attention phase, the frame-lit rectangle served as the attention cue in the spatial orienting task. The Conditioning group showed equally fast reaction times (RTs) to targets presented outside the location of the cue as to targets at the same location as the cue, reflecting elimination of the cognitive cost usually involved in shifting attention. The Control group evidenced the regular cost of shifting attention away from the location of the cue. The Conditioning group also evidenced a larger N1-component with a parietal distribution of the event-related brain potentials to the cue and a larger N1-component at the frontal regions to targets presented outside the cued location. This suggests that both visual orienting to the cue and attention shifting from cue to target on invalid trials were amplified by the emotional salience attached to the cue through the classical conditioning procedure.