Arousal systems and attentional processes

Biol Psychol. 1997 Mar 21;45(1-3):57-71. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0511(96)05222-2.


Unitary concepts of arousal have outlived their usefulness and their psychological fractionation corresponds to a similar chemical differentiation of the reticular formation of the brain. Neurobiological characteristics of the monoaminergic and cholinergic systems can be described in terms of their anatomical, electrophysiological and neurochemical properties. Functional studies suggest that the coeruleo-cortical noradrenergic system, under certain circumstances, is implicated in processes of selective attention, that the mesolimbic and mesostriatal dopaminergic systems contribute to different forms of behavioural activation, and that the cortical cholinergic projections have fundamental roles in the cortical processing of signals, affecting attentional and mnemonic processes. The ascending serotoninergic systems contribute to behavioural inhibition and appear to oppose the functions of the other systems in several ways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention*
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Norepinephrine / physiology
  • Serotonin / physiology


  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine