Looking at pictures that stir strong emotions influences how human brains work. So, pictures that pack an emotional wallop, whether it’s positive or negative, need to be used with caution. Quoting Sutherland and his team: “Emotionally arousing stimuli are attention grabbing and highly memorable, and they also have influences on attention and memory that continue after the removal of the emotional stimulus. This is thought to occur due to changes in cognition that allow one to more easily adapt to harmful or threatening circumstances, or to engage in reward-seeking activity. . . . Here we corroborate that finding and report evidence that positive and negative arousing images impair top-down attention. Yet these effects were limited to animal stimuli and not observed with object stimuli [this means that the effects on thinking were found when people were asked to look at pictures of animals after they had looked at those emotion-generating images]. . . . Emotions change how one sees the world, and here we demonstrate that brief exposure to an emotionally arousing stimulus changes how bottom-up and top-down influences interact during perception. . . . For one to understand why people attend to some things and ignore others, a person’s emotional state should be considered.”
Matthew Sutherland, Douglas McQuiggan, Jennifer Ryan, and Mara Mather. “Perceptual Salience Does Not Influence Emotional Arousal’s Impairing Effects on Top-Down Attention.” Emotion, in press.