The interface between emotion and attention: a review of evidence from psychology and neuroscience

Behav Cogn Neurosci Rev. 2003 Jun;2(2):115-29. doi: 10.1177/1534582303255278.


This review addresses the interconnections between emotional and attentional processing, with an emphasis on both behavioral and neuroscientific findings. Are emotional stimuli encoded automatically, and what does that mean? How are emotional stimuli selected for enhanced processing within a limited capacity system? Evidence suggests a two-stage process: First, emotional significance is evaluated preattentively by a sub-cortical circuit involving the amygdala; and second, stimuli deemed emotionally significant are given priority in the competition for access to selective attention. This process involves bottom-up inputs from the amygdala as well as top-down influences from frontal lobe regions involved in goal setting and maintaining representations in working memory. The review highlights limitations in the current literature, directions for fruitful future research, and the need to move beyond simple dichotomies such as 'cognition' versus 'emotion.'

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology