Attentional capture by schematic emotional faces was investigated in two experiments using the flanker task devised by Eriksen and Eriksen (1974). In Experiment 1, participants were presented with a central target (a schematic face that was either positive or negative) flanked by two identical distractors, one on either side (schematic faces that were positive, negative, or neutral). The objective was to identify the central target as quickly as possible. The impact of the flankers depended on their emotional expression. Consistent with a threat advantage hypothesis (negative faces are processed faster and attract more processing resources), responses to positive faces were slower when these were flanked by (response incompatible) negative faces as compared with positive or neutral faces, whereas responses to negative faces were unaffected by the identity of the flankers. Experiment 2 was a standard flanker task with letter stimuli except that the task-neutral flankers were schematic faces that were either positive, negative, or emotionally neutral. In this case, in which faces and emotional expressions were to be ignored, performance seemed entirely unaffected by the faces. This result suggests that attentional capture by emotional faces is contingent on attentional control settings.
Barratt, D., & Bundesen, C. (2012). Attentional Capture by Emotional Faces is Contingent on Attentional Control Settings. Cognition and Emotion, 26(7), 1223-1237. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.645279