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Cognitive scientists have long proposed that social stimuli attract visual attention even when task irrelevant, but the consequences of this privileged status for memory are unknown. To address this, we combined computational approaches, eye-tracking methodology, and individual-differences measures. Participants searched for targets in scenes containing social or non-social distractors equated for low-level visual salience. Subsequent memory precision for target locations was tested. Individual differences in autistic traits and social anxiety were also measured. Eye-tracking revealed significantly more attentional capture to social compared to non-social distractors. Critically, memory precision for target locations was poorer for social scenes. This effect was moderated by social anxiety, with anxious individuals remembering target locations better under conditions of social distraction. These findings shed further light onto the privileged attentional status of social stimuli and its functional consequences on memory across individuals.

Original publication

DOI

10.1016/j.cognition.2016.10.015

Type

Journal article

Journal

Cognition

Publication Date

01/2017

Volume

158

Pages

215 - 223

Keywords

Memory, Social anxiety, Social distraction, Visual attention