Microsaccadic modulation evoked by emotional events

J Physiol Anthropol. 2020 Sep 4;39(1):26. doi: 10.1186/s40101-020-00238-6.


Saccadic eye movements can allude to emotional states and visual attention. Recent studies have shown that microsaccadic responses (i.e., small fixational eye movements) reflect advanced brain activity during attentional and cognitive tasks. Moreover, the microsaccadic activity related to emotional attention provides new insights into this field. For example, emotional pictures attenuate the microsaccadic rate, and microsaccadic responses to covert attention occur in the direction opposite to a negative emotional target. However, the effects of various emotional events on microsaccadic activity remain debatable. This review introduces visual attention and eye movement studies that support findings on the modulation of microsaccadic responses to emotional events, comparing them with typical microsaccadic responses. This review also discusses the brain neuronal mechanisms governing microsaccadic responses to the attentional shifts triggered by emotion-related stimuli. It is hard to reveal the direct brain pathway of the microsaccadic modulation, especially in advanced (e.g., sustained anger, envy, distrust, guilt, frustration, delight, attraction, trust, and love), but also in basic human emotions (i.e., anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise). However, non-human primates and human studies can uncover the possible brain pathways of emotional attention and microsaccades, thus providing future research directions. In particular, the facilitated (or reduced) attention is common evidence that microsaccadic activities change under a variety of social modalities (e.g., cognition, music, mental illness, and working memory) that elicit emotions and feelings.

Keywords: Brain mechanism; Emotional attention; Mental illness; Microsaccadic direction; Small eye movements.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Saccades / physiology*