Directed attention reduces processing of emotional distracters irrespective of valence and arousal level

Biol Psychol. 2013 Sep;94(1):44-54. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.05.001. Epub 2013 May 11.


Emotional stimuli tend to capture attention, and this so-called motivated attention is commonly measured using the early posterior negativity (EPN) and the late positive potential (LPP). We hypothesized that voluntary, directed attention reduces motivated attention more strongly for highly than moderately arousing pleasant or unpleasant pictures. Participants were instructed to direct their attention to either a picture at fixation or the letters flanking the picture. Pictures varied substantially in arousal and valence. When the pictures were attended to, EPN and LPP increased linearly with arousal. When the letters were attended to, these linear effects decreased in the EPN for pleasant and unpleasant pictures and in the LPP for pleasant pictures. Thus, directed attention decreases processing of emotional distracters more strongly for highly than moderately arousing pleasant and unpleasant pictures. These results are consistent with the view that directed attention decreases emotion effects on sensory gain.

Keywords: Attention; EPN; Emotion; Event-related potentials; LPP.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult