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Attention and the processing of emotional words and names - Not so special after all


Previous research has suggested that a person's own name or emotionally charged stimuli automatically "grab" attention, potentially challenging limited-capacity theories of perceptual processing. In this study, subjects were shown two digits surrounding a word and asked to make a speeded judgment about whether the parity of the two digits matched. When the subject's own name was presented on a few scattered trials, responses were markedly slowed (replicating a previous study). However, in a subsequent block of trials in which half the words were the subject's name, the slowing did not occur. The same slowing occurred (but even more fleetingly) when an emotionally charged word was presented between the digits. When the name was embedded among multiple distractor words, it ceased to slow reaction times. The results suggest that perceptual analysis of high-priority stimuli is subject to the usual capacity limitations of other stimuli, but when enough capacity is available for a high-priority stimulus to be perceived, a transient surprise reaction may interrupt ongoing processing.

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