Emotional engagement and orienting: the effects of picture size on affective response

De Cesarei, Andrea (2009) Emotional engagement and orienting: the effects of picture size on affective response, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Psicologia generale e clinica, 21 Ciclo.
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For their survival, humans and animals can rely on motivational systems which are specialized in assessing the valence and imminence of dangers and appetitive cues. The Orienting Response (OR) is a fundamental response pattern that an organism executes whenever a novel or significant stimulus is detected, and has been shown to be consistently modulated by the affective value of a stimulus. However, detecting threatening stimuli and appetitive affordances while they are far away compared to when they are within reach constitutes an obvious evolutionary advantage. Building on the linear relationship between stimulus distance and retinal size, the present research was aimed at investigating the extent to which emotional modulation of distinct processes (action preparation, attentional capture, and subjective emotional state) is affected when reducing the retinal size of a picture. Studies 1-3 examined the effects of picture size on emotional response. Subjective feeling of engagement, as well as sympathetic activation, were modulated by picture size, suggesting that action preparation and subjective experience reflect the combined effects of detecting an arousing stimulus and assessing its imminence. On the other hand, physiological responses which are thought to reflect the amount of attentional resources invested in stimulus processing did not vary with picture size. Studies 4-6 were conducted to substantiate and extend the results of studies 1-3. In particular, it was noted that a decrease in picture size is associated with a loss in the low spatial frequencies of a picture, which might confound the interpretation of the results of studies 1-3. Therefore, emotional and neutral images which were either low-pass filtered or reduced in size were presented, and affective responses were measured. Most effects which were observed when manipulating image size were replicated by blurring pictures. However, pictures depicting highly arousing unpleasant contents were associated with a more pronounced decrease in affective modulation when pictures were reduced in size compared to when they were blurred. The present results provide important information for the study of processes involved in picture perception and in the genesis and expression of an emotional response. In particular, the availability of high spatial frequencies might affect the degree of activation of an internal representation of an affectively charged scene, and might modulate subjective emotional state and preparation for action. Moreover, the manipulation of stimulus imminence revealed important effects of stimulus engagement on specific components of the emotional response, and the implications of the present data for some models of emotions have been discussed. In particular, within the framework of a staged model of emotional response, the tactic and strategic role of response preparation and attention allocation to stimuli varying in engaging power has been discussed, considering the adaptive advantages that each might represent in an evolutionary view. Finally, the identification of perceptual parameters that allow affective processing to be carried out has important methodological applications in future studies examining emotional response in basic research or clinical contexts.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
De Cesarei, Andrea
Dottorato di ricerca
Scuola di dottorato
Scienze umanistiche
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
Data di discussione
27 Aprile 2009

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