Emotion and attention: event-related brain potential studies

Prog Brain Res. 2006;156:31-51. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(06)56002-9.


Emotional pictures guide selective visual attention. A series of event-related brain potential (ERP) studies is reviewed demonstrating the consistent and robust modulation of specific ERP components by emotional images. Specifically, pictures depicting natural pleasant and unpleasant scenes are associated with an increased early posterior negativity, late positive potential, and sustained positive slow wave compared with neutral contents. These modulations are considered to index different stages of stimulus processing including perceptual encoding, stimulus representation in working memory, and elaborate stimulus evaluation. Furthermore, the review includes a discussion of studies exploring the interaction of motivated attention with passive and active forms of attentional control. Recent research is reviewed exploring the selective processing of emotional cues as a function of stimulus novelty, emotional prime pictures, learned stimulus significance, and in the context of explicit attention tasks. It is concluded that ERP measures are useful to assess the emotion-attention interface at the level of distinct processing stages. Results are discussed within the context of two-stage models of stimulus perception brought out by studies of attention, orienting, and learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Humans