Psychological Science ›› 2016, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (6): 1339-1345.

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Subliminal presentation of the goal of emotion control affacts the attention allocation to fear stimuli


  • Received:2015-11-29 Revised:2016-04-07 Online:2016-11-20 Published:2016-11-20



  1. 中国人民大学
  • 通讯作者: 张晶


Over the past several years, there have been numerous demonstrations that people can engage in goal-directed, volitional behavior in the absence of conscious awareness. These demonstrations involve a wide variety of cognitive and social behaviors. Recently, automatic emotion regulation also becomes a new research field in emotion. Automatic emotion regulation, based on the automatic pursuit of the goal to alter the emotion trajectory, has far-reaching consequences for individuals’ emotions. The effect of automatic emotion regulation was documented by the changes of emotion perception and cardiovascular activities. However, little was known about the mechanism of automatic emotion regulation processing. As Gross’ process model of emotion regulation suggests attentional deployment is one of the critical emotion regulation strategies. It is also increasingly recognized that top-down settings, including the goals an individual holds, influence even early stages of the attentionaldeployment and cause attentional biases. The present study examined whether and how emotion regulation goal affected the attention allocation by adopting goal priming techniques. In the masked subliminal priming paradigm, a masking pattern was displayed for 100ms at the fixation point offset. Following the mask, a word as prime stimuli was shortly exposed for 20ms, followed by the same masking pattern as that exposed before the prime for 100ms. For the Experiment Group, the prime word was chosen from emotion control category. A dot-probe task then applied in both experiments after priming to detect personal attentonal deployment. In this task, two cue pictures, of which one was a fear-relevant picture and another one was a neutral picture, were presented for either 100ms ,500ms or 1250ms. Hereafter, the target (white dot) was presented. Participants had to indicate the location of the target. A trial ended after a response was registered and a following trial started 1000ms later. Mixed-factorial 2 (priming group: priming control words, priming regulation-unrelated words)×2(consistency: consistent, inconsistent)×3(presentation time:100ms, 500ms, 1250ms) ANOVAs were used to analyze the data. The results showed that the main effect of present time was significant F(2,102)=13.093,p<0.001, ηp2=0.204. The interaction of constency and priming group, constency and presentation time, constency and presentation time and priming group were significant (F(1,51)=6.935,p=0.011,ηp2=0.120; F(2,102)=4.329,p=0.016, ηp2=0.078; F(2,102)=3.373,p=0.038, ηp2=0.062). No other significant results were found (ps < .05). The simple effect analysis found that the group of primed emotion control goal showed an attentional avoidance of negative pictures at the 100ms and 500ms but not 1250ms after the picture presentation, indicating by longer RT in consistent trials ( the target was on the location of negative pictures) than in inconsistent trials(the target was on the location of neutral pictures) at 100ms and 500ms presentation time. However, the control group showed vigilance to snake pictures at 100ms after the picture presentation. In summary, the present results suggested that subliminal emotion regulation goal primes might affect attentional allocatoin. Automatic emotion regulation changed the emotion processing by prompting attention aviodence to the negatve stimuli.