It is generally assumed that emotion facilitates human vision in order to promote adaptive responses to a potential threat in the environment. Surprisingly, we recently found that emotion in some cases impairs the perception of elementary visual features (Bocanegra & Zeelenberg, 2009b). Here, we demonstrate that emotion improves fast temporal vision at the expense of fine-grained spatial vision. We tested participants' threshold resolution with Landolt circles containing a small spatial or brief temporal discontinuity. The prior presentation of a fearful face cue, compared with a neutral face cue, impaired spatial resolution but improved temporal resolution. In addition, we show that these benefits and deficits were triggered selectively by the global configural properties of the faces, which were transmitted only through low spatial frequencies. Critically, the common locus of these opposite effects suggests a trade-off between magno- and parvocellular-type visual channels, which contradicts the common assumption that emotion invariably improves vision. We show that, rather than being a general " boost" for all visual features, affective neural circuits sacrifice the slower processing of small details for a coarser but faster visual signal.

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Bocanegra, B.R, & Zeelenberg, R. (2011). Emotion-Induced Trade-Offs in Spatiotemporal Vision. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140(2), 272–282. doi:10.1037/a0023188