Can Stimulus-Induced Affective States Influence the Rate of PL?

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Perceptual learning (PL) has been characterized as improvements in perceptual ability as a function of experience. Based on evidence that negative stimuli can enhance perceptual processing in across a wide variety of domains, we sought to evaluate the possibility that observers primed with negative images would learn the acuity discrimination faster than subjects primed with control images.

The influence of emotion on PL was tested utilizing a primed PL paradigm. Observers were presented with a peripheral vernier stimulus over 350 trials with feedback on each trial. The magnitude of the offset was adjusted over the first 50 trials. Over the final 300 trials, 20 subjects were primed with photographs containing negatively valenced images, 20 were primed with neutral images, and 20 were primed with positively valenced images selected from the International Affective Picture System (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert 2005). Negatively and positively valenced primes were matched for arousal. Immediately following the prime, subjects were presented with a centrally presented character and peripherally presented acuity stimulus followed by a mask. Participants were instructed to indicate both the identity of the central character and the direction of the offset.

Relative to the initial unprimed 50 trials, performance declined when the picture primes were presented, and most so for negatively primed subjects.However, observers primed with negative images demonstrated a faster rate of learning than observers in either of the other two prime conditions, eventually demonstrating higher accuracy than either of the other two control conditions. These results are consistent with the conclusion that negative stimuli can enhance perceptual processing in general.

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Journal of Vision, v. 7, issue 9, art. 50