Affective picture processing: an integrative review of ERP findings

Biol Psychol. 2008 Mar;77(3):247-65. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2007.11.006. Epub 2007 Nov 17.


The review summarizes and integrates findings from 40 years of event-related potential (ERP) studies using pictures that differ in valence (unpleasant-to-pleasant) and arousal (low-to-high) and that are used to elicit emotional processing. Affective stimulus factors primarily modulate ERP component amplitude, with little change in peak latency observed. Arousal effects are consistently obtained, and generally occur at longer latencies. Valence effects are inconsistently reported at several latency ranges, including very early components. Some affective ERP modulations vary with recording methodology, stimulus factors, as well as task-relevance and emotional state. Affective ERPs have been linked theoretically to attention orientation for unpleasant pictures at earlier components (<300 ms). Enhanced stimulus processing has been associated with memory encoding for arousing pictures of assumed intrinsic motivational relevance, with task-induced differences contributing to emotional reactivity at later components (>300 ms). Theoretical issues, stimulus factors, task demands, and individual differences are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Visual Perception / physiology*