Attenuation of visual exploration following stress

Nitzan Guy*, Hagar Azulay, Yoni Pertzov, Salomon Israel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

When we explore our surroundings, we frequently move our gaze to collect visual information. Studies have extensively examined gaze behavior in response to different visual scenes. Here, we examined how differences in an individual's state may affect visual exploration, for example, following acute stress. In this study, participants were exposed to either a psychosocial stressor—performing a public speaking task in front of a two-person committee—or a control condition absent stress induction. Elicitation of stress responses was validated using cortisol levels and subjective reports. Stress also led to an extended increase in pupil diameter (a proxy of arousal responses), suggesting it may also affect eye movements. Gaze behavior measures were taken prior and following the stress or control tasks. Acute stress attenuated visual exploration, reflected by fewer saccades and a smaller scanned area. Stress did not have a significant effect on either the tendency to look at social features or at salient regions of the images. These findings diverge from theoretical predictions suggesting that acute stress may facilitate social affiliative behaviors (e.g., Tend-and-Befriend theory). Reduced saccades and a smaller scanned area may be a possible mechanism explaining previous reports showing stress-related effects on various cognitive processes (e.g., visual working memory) that rely on visual exploration.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere14330
JournalPsychophysiology
Volume60
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Psychobiology in Israel and the JOY Foundation to Y. Pertozv and S. Israel, as well as a grant from the Israel Science Foundation (#1454/19) to S. Israel and (#2414/20) to Y. Pertzov. N. Guy received additional support from the Jerusalem Brain Community (JBC). The authors thank Shirli Zerbib, Sara Green, Anael Cohen, Batsheva Orni, and Boaz Cherki for their help with data collection.

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Psychobiology in Israel and the JOY Foundation to Y. Pertozv and S. Israel, as well as a grant from the Israel Science Foundation (#1454/19) to S. Israel and (#2414/20) to Y. Pertzov. N. Guy received additional support from the Jerusalem Brain Community (JBC). The authors thank Shirli Zerbib, Sara Green, Anael Cohen, Batsheva Orni, and Boaz Cherki for their help with data collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research.

Keywords

  • TSST
  • cortisol
  • eye movement
  • scene viewing
  • stress

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