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Emotional faces in visual working memory are not easily forgotten: Distractor effects on memory-guided visual search

23.311, Saturday, 17-May, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Jacaranda Hall
Session: Visual memory: Objects, features and individual differences

Risa Sawaki1, Jane Raymond1; 1University of Birmingham, UK

Visual search is typically guided by goals that are represented in working memory. Here we ask whether recently encoded but to-be-forgotten emotional information can also bias visual search. Although it has been demonstrated that angry faces are better maintained in visual working memory than happy faces, it remains unknown whether they are more difficult to forget. The present study investigated this issue by monitoring eye movements while participants performed a memory-guided visual search task. In the task, participants first encoded and then maintained two faces (different identities with different emotional expressions: happy, angry, or neutral) in working memory. Then, part way through a 3 second retention interval, a cue was presented to indicate which face to continuously maintain as target and which to forget. Finally, participants searched for the target face among an array of six faces comprised of each of the previously presented identities expressing each possible emotion. We found that fixations on the search array item matching the to-be forgotten (TBF) distractor (TBF identity plus TBF emotion) were infrequent, short in duration, and did not depend on the TBF emotion (angry, happy). However, fixations on the distractor face that combined target identity with the TBF emotion were significantly longer when the TBF emotion was angry versus happy. This finding suggests that representation of an angry expression is difficult to suppress from visual working memory and that such information can subsequently influence visual search.

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