Me first? Positioning self in the attentional hierarchy

Sheila J. Cunningham*, Julia Vogt, Douglas Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)
    56 Downloads (Pure)


    The attention system that allocates resources across competing aspects of the environment is influenced by biases toward particular types of stimuli, such as cues of threat (e.g., angry-face image), self-reference (e.g., own-face image) and current goals (e.g., food image when hungry). Here, we used dot probe tasks to investigate which of these stimulus types are prioritized in the attentional hierarchy, measuring response latency to dot probes presented in the same location as different face types. In Experiment 1, participants (N = 42) were presented with self, angry and neutral face images in the dot probe task, which revealed a clear attentional bias for self-images over both angry and neutral images. In Experiment 2, each participant (N = 69) was assigned a self, angry or neutral goal image for a secondary monitoring task designed to induce a temporary goal, and this image was included in the stimuli presented in the dot probe task. Again, self-cues were found to produce a strong attentional bias, but images associated with temporary goals were found to be the most effective source of attentional bias. Results are discussed in relation to the relative importance of self, threat and temporary goal cues in the attentional hierarchy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)115-127
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
    Issue number2
    Early online date30 Dec 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


    • Attentional bias
    • Self
    • Threat
    • Temporary goals
    • Dot probe task


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