Emotional facilitation of sensory processing in the visual cortex

Psychol Sci. 2003 Jan;14(1):7-13. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.01411.


A key function of emotion is the preparation for action. However, organization of successful behavioral strategies depends on efficient stimulus encoding. The present study tested the hypothesis that perceptual encoding in the visual cortex is modulated by the emotional significance of visual stimuli. Event-related brain potentials were measured while subjects viewed pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant pictures. Early selective encoding of pleasant and unpleasant images was associated with a posterior negativity, indicating primary sources of activation in the visual cortex. The study also replicated previous findings in that affective cues also elicited enlarged late positive potentials, indexing increased stimulus relevance at higher-order stages of stimulus processing. These results support the hypothesis that sensory encoding of affective stimuli is facilitated implicitly by natural selective attention. Thus, the affect system not only modulates motor output (i.e., favoring approach or avoidance dispositions), but already operates at an early level of sensory encoding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*