Gender differences in the cortical electrophysiological processing of visual emotional stimuli

Neuroimage. 2004 Feb;21(2):632-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.09.055.


The processing of visual emotional stimuli has been investigated previously; however, gender differences in the processing of emotional stimuli remain to be clarified. The aim of the current study was to use steady-state probe topography (SSPT) to examine steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEPs) during the processing of pleasant and unpleasant images relative to neutral images, and to determine whether this processing differs between males and females. Thirty participants (15 males and 15 females) viewed 75 images low on the arousal dimension (categorised as pleasant, neutral or unpleasant) selected from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS), whilst a 13-Hz sinusoidal white visual flicker was superimposed over the visual field and brain electrical activity was recorded from 64 electrode sites. Results suggest that pleasant and unpleasant images relative to neutral images are associated with reductions in frontal latency and occipital amplitude. In addition, electrophysiological gender differences were observed despite there being no differences found between males and females on subjective mood or behavioural ratings of presented images (valence and arousal dimensions). The main gender difference reported in the current study related to the processing of unpleasant images (relative to neutral images) which is associated with widespread frontal latency reductions (predominantly right sided) in females but not in males. Our results suggest that gender differences do exist in the processing of visual emotional stimuli, and illustrate the importance of taking these differences into account during investigations of emotional processing. Finally, these gender differences may have implications for the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as depression.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Female
  • Flicker Fusion / physiology
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*