Associating LIPS and SWOLLEN: delayed attentional disengagement following words in sex contexts

Cognition and Emotion 31 (6):1197-1210 (2017)
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Abstract

ABSTRACTWith a series of three studies, using an adapted dot-probe paradigm, we investigated the elicitation of spontaneous affective meaning. Although it is well established that humans show delays in disengaging their attention from conventional affective stimuli, it is unknown whether contextually acquired affective meaning similarly impacts attention. We examined attentional disengagement following pairs of neutral or slightly ambiguous words that in combination could evoke sex, violence or neutral associations. Study 1 demonstrated slower disengagement following words that conveyed sex or violence associations compared to words that conveyed neutral associations. This pattern was only present for participants who were aware of sex or violence associations. Study 2 replicated these results in a large sample, but only for sex associations. Study 3 replicated the effect while instructing participants explicitly to expect sex and violence associations. Finally, two control studies countered reasonable alternative explanations for our findings. Together, these studies show that contextually driven affective associations can arise quickly with the potential to influence attentional processes. These findings are consistent with theoretical models of emotion and language that highlight the importance of context in the generation of affective meaning.

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