Automatic attention to emotional stimuli: neural correlates

Hum Brain Mapp. 2004 Aug;22(4):290-9. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20037.


We investigated the capability of emotional and nonemotional visual stimulation to capture automatic attention, an aspect of the interaction between cognitive and emotional processes that has received scant attention from researchers. Event-related potentials were recorded from 37 subjects using a 60-electrode array, and were submitted to temporal and spatial principal component analyses to detect and quantify the main components, and to source localization software (LORETA) to determine their spatial origin. Stimuli capturing automatic attention were of three types: emotionally positive, emotionally negative, and nonemotional pictures. Results suggest that initially (P1: 105 msec after stimulus), automatic attention is captured by negative pictures, and not by positive or nonemotional ones. Later (P2: 180 msec), automatic attention remains captured by negative pictures, but also by positive ones. Finally (N2: 240 msec), attention is captured only by positive and nonemotional stimuli. Anatomically, this sequence is characterized by decreasing activation of the visual association cortex (VAC) and by the growing involvement, from dorsal to ventral areas, of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Analyses suggest that the ACC and not the VAC is responsible for experimental effects described above. Intensity, latency, and location of neural activity related to automatic attention thus depend clearly on the stimulus emotional content and on its associated biological importance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*