Princeton University Library Catalog

The Effect of Mental Preoccupation on Attentional Bias

Mathabane, Stanley [Browse]
Senior thesis
Shafir, Eldar [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year:
Summary note:
Mental preoccupation is a state characterized by thoughts that are hard to keep your mind off of. This state typically emerges as a product of stress, where thoughts related to the stressful subject become the object of mental preoccupation (Mikulincer et al., 2000). In the present study, we consider how mental preoccupation interacts with other influences on attention. In particular, we consider how attentional bias is influenced by both semantic priming and mental pre-occupation. In order to access the effect of mental preoccupation on attentional bias, a modified Stroop Task was developed with a priming stressor designed to prime semantic meaning and a elicit slight stress response. 135 Undergraduate students at Princeton were assigned to two different priming conditions based on residential area: priming with a brief Academic questionnaire (AP), or Social questionnaire (SP). The participant then completed the Stroop task where they are were presented with both Academic words (AW) and Social words (SW) as target stimuli. The findings show no significant difference in response time between stressor-relevant and stressor-irrelevant stimuli in both conditions. This lack of significant difference suggests that the attentional biasing effect of semantic priming is absent in instances where the priming material is of a stressful nature. This conclusion suggests that stress focuses attentional bias to task-relevant material (responding to the color of the semantic stimulus) in a way that overrides the typical biasing effect of semantic priming. Future studies may consider manipulating the emotionality of priming material and observing the impact on attentional bias. The interaction between different influencers of attentional bias present an intricate puzzle that, upon examination, will help us better understand the fluid shifts of our perceptual landscapes.