Of guns and snakes: testing a modern threat superiority effect.

Previous studies suggest that ancient (i.e. evolutionary-based) threats capture attention because human beings possess an inborn module shaped by evolution and dedicated to their detection. An alternative account proposes that a key feature predicting whether a stimulus will capture attention is its relevance rather than its ontology (i.e. phylogenetic or ontogenetic threat). Within this framework, the present research deals with the attentional capture by threats commonly encountered in our urban environment. In two experiments, we investigate the attentional capture by modern threats (i.e. weapons). In Experiment 1, participants responded to a target preceded by a cue, which was a weapon or a non-threatening stimulus. We found a larger cuing effect (faster reaction times to valid vs. invalid trials) with weapons as compared with non-threatening cues. In Experiment 2, modern (e.g. weapons) and ancient threats (e.g. snakes) were pitted against one another as cues to determine which ones preferentially capture attention. Crucially, participants were faster to detect a target preceded by a modern as opposed to an ancient threat, providing initial evidence for a superiority of modern threat. Overall, the present findings appear more consistent with a relevance-based explanation rather than an evolutionary-based explanation of threat detection.


Of guns and snakes: testing a modern threat superiority effect.
Type de publication
Article de revue
Année de publication
Cognition & emotion
Soumis le 9 juin 2022