Emotional influences on perception and working memory

Cognition and Emotion 31 (6):1294-1302 (2017)

Abstract

Although there has been steady progress elucidating the influence of emotion on cognition, it remains unclear precisely when and why emotion impairs or facilitates cognition. The present study investigated the mechanisms involved in the influence of emotion on perception and working memory, using modified 0-back and 2-back tasks, respectively. First, results showed that attentional focus modulated the impact of emotion on perception. Specifically, emotion facilitated perceptual task performance when it was relevant to the task, but it impaired performance when it was irrelevant to the task. The differential behavioural effect of emotion on perception as a function of attentional focus diminished under high WM load. Second, attentional focus did not directly modulate the impact of emotion on WM, but rather its influence depended on the dynamic relationship between internal representations. Specifically, WM performance was worse when the material already being held online and the new input were of matching emotions, compared to when they were not. We propose that the competition between “bottom-up” and “top-down” processing for limited cognitive resources explains the nature of the influence of emotion on both perception and WM.

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