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Sexual distractors boost younger and older adults' visual search RSVP performance

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Abstract

Do sexual words have high attentional priority? How does the ability to ignore sexual distractors evolve with age? To answer these questions, two experiments using Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) were conducted. Experiment 1 showed that both younger and older participants were better at identifying a target (the name of a colour) when it was preceded by 336 ms by a sexual word rather than by a musical word. Strikingly, the sexual-word advantage was more pronounced for older adults than for younger adults. Experiment 2 showed that introducing a variable delay between the distractor and the target eliminated the sexual-word advantage. This finding suggests that the sexual-word advantage found in Experiment 1 was due to learning to utilize the sexual word as a temporal cue with a fixed duration between the distractor and the target. Contrary to previous research [Arnell et al., 2007, Emotion, 7, 465), neither experiment showed that sexual words produce an attentional blink.

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