Previous studies have found that potentially dangerous stimuli are better at capturing attention than neutral stimuli, a finding sometimes called the threat superiority effect. However, nonthreatening stimuli also capture attention in many studies of visual attention. In Experiment 1, the relevance superiority effect was tested with a visual search task comparing detection times for threatening stimuli (guns), pleasant but motivationally relevant stimuli (food), and neutral stimuli (flowers and chairs). Gun targets were detected more rapidly than both types of neutral targets, whereas food targets were detected more quickly than the neutral chair targets only. Guns were detected more rapidly than food. In Experiment 2, threatening targets (guns and snakes), pleasant but motivationally relevant targets (money and food), and neutral targets (trees and couches) were all presented with the same neutral distractors (cactus and pots) in order to control for the valence of the distractor stimulus across the three categories of target stimuli. Threatening and pleasant target categories facilitated attention relative to neutral targets. The results support the view that both threatening and pleasant pictures can be detected more rapidly than neutral targets.

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