Fear and happiness, but not sadness, motivate attentional flexibility: A case for emotion influencing the ability to split foci of attention.

One prominent and consistent effect is that negative emotions with high motivational intensity, such as fear, narrow attention. However, recent data concerning how fear influences vision may suggest that fear could make attention flexible. Thus, the goal of the present study was to examine whether fear, like happiness, enhances attentional flexibility when multiple targets are present in noncontiguous locations. Fear, happiness, or sadness was induced followed by participants completing an attentional task that required splitting foci of attention to noncontiguous regions of space in the presence (Exp. 1) or absence (Exp. 2) of distractors or both (Exp. 3). Fear and happiness enhanced the reporting of targets in unattended locations demonstrating greater attentional flexibility. Sadness facilitated the splitting of attention through the suppression of irrelevant locations. The effects were replicated in a third experiment using a within-subjects design of distractor presence and an inclusion of a neutral condition. Taken together, results suggest fear and happiness increase attentional flexibility by impairing the suppression of irrelevant locations, which may allow for faster reallocation of attention facilitating detection of potential threats/rewards in one’s environment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)