Emotion, attention, and the 'negativity bias', studied through event-related potentials

Int J Psychophysiol. 2001 May;41(1):75-85. doi: 10.1016/s0167-8760(00)00195-1.


Behavioral studies indicate that there exists a 'negativity bias' in the way surrounding events are processed. Particularly, it has been indicated that negative events elicit more rapid and more prominent responses than non-negative events. The objective of the present study was to explore the role of attention in relation to this negativity bias. Three groups of emotional pictures were used as stimuli: positive, negative and neutral. Event-related potentials were recorded from 35 subjects at F5, Fz, F6, C5, Cz, C6, P5, Pz and P6. Valence and arousal content of the stimulation was measured via a questionnaire. The experimental design ensured that subjects whose data were finally analyzed attended to the stimuli. ANOVAs showed that P200, an attention-related component, showed higher amplitudes and shorter latencies in response to negative stimuli than in response to positive stimuli. Additional partial correlation analyses indicated that P200 amplitude, but not latency, significantly associates (at frontal and central sites) with valence content of the stimulation. Therefore, due to the valence-related nature of the bias, it is concluded that intensity aspects (more than timing aspects) of the P200-related attentional processes are particularly involved in the negativity bias.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Visual Perception / physiology