Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Richard Abrams


When an observer holds his or her hands near an object: hand-nearness), visual processing of that object differs in several ways from visual processing of an object far from the hands. Interestingly, the changes that visual processing undergoes during hand-nearness are the same as those that occur when an observer is emotionally aroused. In the present dissertation, three experiments examined whether hand-nearness and emotional arousal affect visual processing through a shared cognitive mechanism. More specifically, it was proposed that hand-nearness activates the same visual processing mechanism that is engaged during arousal. All experiments included replications of studies that have shown effects of emotional arousal on visual processing when the hands are held over response buttons far from the stimuli: the conventional, hands-far experimental posture). In each experiment, there was a manipulation of hand-posture so that participants performed the task with their hands held far from or near to the visual display. Experiment 1 included a direct replication of the Fox et al.: 2000) visual search study, in which slowed rates of search were found through displays of emotionally negative faces. Experiment 2 included a conceptual replication of the Becker: 2009) visual search study, in which it was found that exposure to emotionally negative faces produced faster search through a subsequent emotionally neutral environment. Experiment 3 included a direct replication of the Fox et al.: 2002) inhibition-of-return: IOR) study, in which the IOR effect was substantially reduced following an angry compared to a happy or a neutral face-cue. In the present dissertation it was found that hand-nearness attenuated the effect of emotional arousal following the presence and removal of an arousing stimulus. The present results suggest that hand-nearness and emotional arousal affect visual processing in part through a shared mechanism. It is proposed that this mechanism is one that is tuned specifically towards processing the visual environment in a way that is advantageous to survival.


Permanent URL: