Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 23–32 | Cite as

Visual search with animal fear-relevant stimuli: A tale of two procedures

  • Allison M. Waters
  • Ottmar V. Lipp
  • Ranjiv S. Randhawa
Original Paper


The present study assessed preferential attentional processing of animal fear-relevant stimuli in two procedures, Search and Interference tasks, which have been suggested to reflect on attentional capture due to the fear-relevance of the stimuli presented. In the Search task, participants (N = 154) searched fear-relevant (i.e., snakes and spiders) and non fear-relevant (i.e., fish and birds) backgrounds to determine the presence or absence of a deviant animal from the opposite category. In the Interference task, the same participants searched for the presence or absence of a neutral target (a cat) when either a snake, spider or no distracter were embedded amongst backgrounds of other animal stimuli. Replicating previous findings, preferential attentional processing of animal fear-relevant stimuli was evident in both procedures and participants who specifically feared one animal but not the other showed enhanced preferential processing of their feared fear-relevant animal. However, across the entire sample, there was no relationship between self-reported levels of animal fear and preferential processing which may reflect on the fact that substantial preferential attentional processing of fear-relevant animals was evident in the entire sample. Also, preferential attentional processing as assessed in the two tasks was not related. Delayed disengagement from fear-relevant stimuli appeared to underlie performance in the search task but not in the interference task.


Fear-relevance Visual search Attention Anxiety Attentional bias 



Grant DP0770844 from the Australian Research Council and a Griffith University Research Grant supported this work. Thanks are due to Clare Bell, Jacinda Cadman, and Torgeir Solemdal for assistance with data collection and to Paul Jackson who programmed the task.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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