Violent or Erotic Images Cause Momentary Periods of "Emotion-induced Blindness"

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2005-12-19 09:59

If your partner seems to be ignoring you after a flash of nudity on the television screen, it might not be his or her fault: A new psychological study finds that when people are shown violent or erotic images they frequently fail to process what they see immediately afterwards.

Two studies that explore this effect, called attentional rubbernecking, were conducted by Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald and Yale University researchers Steven Most, Marvin Chun and David Widders. The results are described in the August issue of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

"We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images," says Zald, assistant professor of psychology and member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

Anyone who has ever slowed down to look at an accident as they are driving by, or has been stuck behind someone who has, is familiar with the "rubbernecking" effect. Even though we know we need to keep our eyes on the road, our emotions of concern, fear and curiosity cause us to stare out the window at the accident and slow to a crawl as we drive by.

In two separate experiments, Zald and his colleagues set out to determine if the rubbernecking effect carries over into more minute lapses of attention.

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