Affective picture modulation: valence, arousal, attention allocation and motivational significance

Int J Psychophysiol. 2012 Mar;83(3):375-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.12.005. Epub 2012 Jan 5.


The present study analyses the modulatory effects of affective pictures in the early posterior negativity (EPN), the late positive potential (LPP) and the human startle response on both the peripheral (eye blink EMG) and central neurophysiological levels (Probe P3), during passive affective pictures viewing. The affective pictures categories were balanced in terms of valence (pleasant; unpleasant) and arousal (high; low). The data shows that EPN may be sensitive to specific stimulus characteristics (affective relevant pictures versus neutral pictures) associated with early stages of attentional processing. In later stages, the heightened attentional resource allocation as well as the motivated significance of the affective stimuli was found to elicit enhanced amplitudes of slow wave processes thought to be related to enhanced encoding, namely LPP,. Although pleasant low arousing pictures were effective in engaging the resources involved in the slow wave processes, the highly arousing affective stimuli (pleasant and unpleasant) were found to produce the largest enhancement of the LPP, suggesting that high arousing stimuli may are associated with increased motivational significance. Additionally the response to high arousing stimuli may be suggestive of increased motivational attention, given the heightened attentional allocation, as expressed in the P3 probe, especially for the pleasant pictures. The hedonic valence may then serve as a mediator of the attentional inhibition to the affective priming, potentiating or inhibiting a shift towards defensive activation, as measured by the startle reflex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Blinking
  • Brain Mapping
  • Contingent Negative Variation
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult