Individual differences in working memory capacity partly arise from variability in attention control, a process influenced by negative emotional content. Thus, individual differences in working memory capacity should be predictive of differences in the ability to regulate attention in emotional contexts. To address this hypothesis, a complex-span working memory task (symmetry span) was modified so that negative arousing images or neutral images subtended the background during the encoding phase. Across three experiments, negative arousing images impaired working memory encoding relative to neutral images, resulting in impoverished symmetry span scores. Additionally, in Experiment 3, both negative and arousing images captured attention and led to increased hit rates in a subsequent recognition task. Contrary to the primary hypothesis, individual differences in working memory capacity derived from three complex span tasks failed to moderate the effect of negative arousing images on working memory encoding across two large scale studies. Implications for theories of working memory and attention control in emotional contexts will be discussed.
- Regulating working memory In emotionally-laden contexts
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by Kimberly Marie Wingert