Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Second Advisor

Mark Whisman

Third Advisor

Tracy Ferrell


Does attention affect how you feel about someone? Researchers have shown that there may be a relationship between attention and emotion. However, less research has been done to investigate the relationship between the level of attention and the impact on the perception of others. Given that, this study was conducted to test two hypotheses. First, that directing attention towards a face increases threat and decreases trustworthiness one feels towards that person. Second, that attention increases emotion because it increases distinctiveness. To test these hypotheses, 43 participants underwent a computer simulation and viewed six sets of slideshows that contained white and black male faces that expressed happy, neutral, and angry emotions. Attention was manipulated by randomly assigning one target image per set that the participant was instructed to direct their attention towards during each slideshow. After the slideshow, participants indicated how threatening, trustworthy, and distinctive the target image was compared to non-target images. Results suggest that target images, overall, increased threat perceptions compared to non-target images. Results also support the hypothesis that attention will increase emotional intensity because of distinctiveness. However, attention did not seem to have an effect on trustworthiness. Furthermore, the significance and intensity of threat perception differed in response to which race and which emotional expression the participant was exposed to in each slideshow. These findings contribute to a growing body of literature on how attention affects emotion and elaborate on the social and clinical implications that exist because of this relationship.