Emotional SNARC: emotional faces affect the impact of number magnitude on gaze patterns

Abstract

The Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) effect is characterised by a spatial cognitive representation of low numbers to the left side of space and high numbers to the right side of space. This effect has been found using a diversity of stimuli and experimental paradigms. However, the influence of emotional stimuli on this effect remains unclear. In this study, the SNARC effect is analysed in relation to pairs of emotional facial stimuli (happy–neutral, sad–neutral and happy–sad pairs). Gaze patterns of 151 participants were analysed when exposed to a free-viewing eye-tracking paradigm consisting of pairs of emotional faces preceded by small and large numbers. Replicating previous results, a standard SNARC effect was found independently of the emotional expressions of the faces (i.e., there was a significant linear trend of number magnitude in the frequency of first fixations of the gaze to the left side space). However, specific slope analyses revealed that the SNARC effect was influenced by the spatial position of each emotion presented in the emotional pairs. Specifically, the effect disappeared in happy–neutral trials, when the happy faces were allocated in the right position and also in happy–sad trials when two emotional stimuli were simultaneously displayed. The study revealed that the SNARC effect is sensitive to the spatial position of emotional stimuli which further adds to other known limits of the phenomenon. The limitations of the study and its implications in the area of cognition and emotion are also discussed.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Prof. Almudena Duque, Teodoro Pascual, Natalia Poyato, Pablo Roca, and Teresa Boemo for their collaboration. The help provided by Rosa Maria Zangri to edit this paper is also greatly appreciated.

Funding

This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness grants PSI2014-61764 (EXPLORA), PSI2014-56303-REDT, and PSI2015-69253-R to the third author, the Ministry of Education predoctoral Fellowship BES-2013-064936 to the first author, and Complutense University predoctoral fellowship (CT17/17-CT18/17) to the second author.

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Correspondence to Carmelo Vazquez.

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Blanco, I., Nieto, I. & Vazquez, C. Emotional SNARC: emotional faces affect the impact of number magnitude on gaze patterns. Psychological Research (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01375-4

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