Activation of the visual cortex in motivated attention

Behav Neurosci. 2003 Apr;117(2):369-80. doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.117.2.369.


Functional activation (measured with fMRI) in occipital cortex was more extensive when participants view pictures strongly related to primary motive states (i.e., victims of violent death, viewer-directed threat, and erotica). This functional activity was greater than that observed for less intense emotional (i.e., happy families or angry faces) or neutral images (i.e., household objects, neutral faces). Both the extent and strength of functional activity were related to the judged affective arousal of the different picture contents, and the same pattern of functional activation was present whether pictures were presented in color or in grayscale. It is suggested that more extensive visual system activation reflects "motivated attention," in which appetitive or defensive motivational engagement directs attention and facilitates perceptual processing of survival-relevant stimuli.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*