Positive and negative affect produce opposing task-irrelevant stimulus preexposure effects

Josef Lazar, Oren Kaplan, Terri Sternberg, R. E. Lubow*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In three experiments, groups were exposed to either positive or negative affect video clips, after which they were presented with a series of task-irrelevant stimuli. In the subsequent test task, subjects were required to learn an association between the previously irrelevant stimulus and a consequence, and between a new stimulus and a consequence. Induced positive affect produced a latent inhibition effect (poorer evidence of learning with the previously irrelevant stimulus than with the novel stimulus). In opposition to this, induced negative affect resulted in better evidence of learning with a previously irrelevant stimulus than with a novel stimulus. In general, the opposing effects also were present in participants scoring high on self-report questionnaires of depression (Experiments 2 and 3). These unique findings were predicted and accounted for on the basis of two principles: (a) positive affect broadens the attentional field and negative affect contracts it; and (b) task-irrelevant stimuli are processed in two successive stages, the first encodes stimulus properties, and the second encodes stimulus relationships. The opposing influences of negative and positive mood on the processing of irrelevant stimuli have implications for the role of emotion in general theories of cognition, and possibly for resolving some of the inconsistent findings in research with schizophrenia patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-604
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Affect
  • Depression
  • Facilitated learning
  • Latent inhibition
  • Schizophrenia


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