Tuning to the significant: neural and genetic processes underlying affective enhancement of visual perception and memory

Behav Brain Res. 2014 Feb 1;259:229-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.11.018. Epub 2013 Nov 19.


Emotionally arousing events reach awareness more easily and evoke greater visual cortex activation than more mundane events. Recent studies have shown that they are also perceived more vividly and that emotionally enhanced perceptual vividness predicts memory vividness. We propose that affect-biased attention (ABA) - selective attention to emotionally salient events - is an endogenous attentional system tuned by an individual's history of reward and punishment. We present the Biased Attention via Norepinephrine (BANE) model, which unifies genetic, neuromodulatory, neural and behavioural evidence to account for ABA. We review evidence supporting BANE's proposal that a key mechanism of ABA is locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) activity, which interacts with activity in hubs of affective salience networks to modulate visual cortex activation and heighten the subjective vividness of emotionally salient stimuli. We further review literature on biased competition and look at initial evidence for its potential as a neural mechanism behind ABA. We also review evidence supporting the role of the LC-NE system as a driving force of ABA. Finally, we review individual differences in ABA and memory including differences in sensitivity to stimulus category and valence. We focus on differences arising from a variant of the ADRA2b gene, which codes for the alpha2b adrenoreceptor as a way of investigating influences of NE availability on ABA in humans.

Keywords: ADRA2b; Amygdala; Emotion; Emotional memory; Norepinephrine; Visual attention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / genetics*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / metabolism
  • Visual Perception / genetics*


  • ADRA2B protein, human
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • Norepinephrine