Doctoral defence: Martin Kolnes “Appraisal driven modulation of attention control”

On 16 December at 16:00 Martin Kolnes will defend his doctoral thesis “Appraisal driven modulation of attention control” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Psychology). 

Supervisors:
Associate Professor Andero Uusberg, University of Tartu
Professor Jüri Allik, University of Tartu

Opponent:
Professor Annekathrin Schacht, Georg August University of Göttingen (Germany)

Summary
Why do emotional situations influence our visual attention? Why is it so that a passerby with an angry face quickly captures our attention? And why is it so that in an uncomfortable or anxious situation we tend to focus our attention on specific details and ignore other information? Previously, emotional attention has been explained mostly by emphasizing the subjective feeling caused by an emotion. According to this view, a negative stimulus, like an angry face, captures attention due to its negative nature and the negative feelings caused by it. In the current doctoral dissertation, it is suggested that the driving force behind emotional effects on attention is the appraisal process which is believed to cause and shape emotional experiences. For instance, negative emotion can arise by appraising an event as relevant and incongruent to our current goals. These appraisal mechanisms are described as fast and automatic, meaning that the brain automatically evaluates stimuli in accordance with the current goals. The findings confirmed that not the negative or positive feeling, but the subjective relevance attributed to a stimulus drives emotional attention. In addition, the findings showed that some emotional effects on attention are not as clear-cut as previously thought. Besides theoretical advancements, the studies presented in the dissertation provided methodological improvements, such as using pupil size as a measure of attentional processes. Overall, the findings developed our understanding of emotional effects on attention and provided some interesting future avenues for future research.

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