Freezing and perception

In this program we explore the relation between fear and visual processing. In particular, we investigate the effects of threat induced freezing on visual perception as reflected in behavioral and neural processes. Previous work showed that threat induces preferred processing of course visual features (low spatial frequency LSF information). In a first study (Lojowska et al., 2016) we replicated this effect and showed that under threat of a mild electric shock, increased sensitivity to LSF information goes at the expense of detailed or high spatial frequency (HSF) processing. In addition, this shift towards preferred LSF processing was related to parasympathetic activity and not to sympathetic activity during freezing. Maria Lojowska is currently investigating the neural correlates of these effects using fMRI in collaboration with Erno Hermans and Sam Ling (Boston university).

The second part of this program aims to understand how we control attention for threatening distracting information in our environments. Therefore we apply neurocognitive theories of attentional control to the field of emotion. For example, we know that the right posterior parietal cortex (rPPC) is involved in bottum-up and top-down attention. However, it remains unknown how the rPPC is implicated in controling attention to emotional information. To test this, we apply transcranial magnetic stimulation to manipulate activity in the rPPC and to test its role in engaging in and disengaging from fear conditioned stimuli in visual search tests, work in collaboration with Manon Mulckhuijse, Jan Engelmann and Dennis Schutter.