The interference produced by the viewing of emotional distractors has been interpreted as evidence that emotional cues are processed in a fairly mandatory fashion, and that they divert attention from the primary ongoing task. However, few studies have examined how behavioral emotional interference varies with repeated presentation of the same emotional distractors. In two experiments, while participants were engaged in a parity judgment task, we investigated the effects of repetition of task-irrelevant emotional pictures, as reflected in both behavioral interference (Experiments 1 and 2) and neural activity (Experiment 2). Both experiments showed that the slowing of reaction times that was observed when viewing emotional, compared to neutral, scenes disappeared after only a few repetitions, suggesting diminished attention allocation to repeated emotional pictures. Conversely, in Experiment 2, neural correlates of picture processing revealed that the late positive potential (LPP) amplitude continued to be enhanced for emotional, compared to neutral, distractors despite picture repetition and the presence of a concurrent task. Altogether, these findings suggest that while evaluative processes are mandatory, and continue to engage cortico-limbic appetitive and defensive systems even after massive repetition, as suggested by the affective modulation of the LPP, attentional processes are not necessary after several repetitions of the same stimulus, as indicated by the rapid decline of behavioral emotional interference.
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