Facial expression and selective attention

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Recent findings demonstrate that faces with an emotional expression tend to attract attention more than neutral faces, especially when having some threat-related value (anger or fear). These findings suggest that discrimination of emotional cues in faces can at least partly be extracted at preattentive or unconscious stages of processing, and then serve to enhance awareness and behavioural responses toward emotionally relevant stimuli. Functional neuroimaging results have begun to delineate brain regions whose response to threat-related expressions is independent of voluntary attention (e.g. amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex), and other regions whose response occurs only with attention (e.g. superior temporal and anterior cingulate cortex). Moreover, visual responses in the fusiform cortex are enhanced for emotional faces, consistent with their greater perceptual saliency. Recent data from event-related evoked potentials and neurophysiology also suggest that rapid processing of emotional information may not only occur in parallel to, but promote a more detailed perceptual analysis of, sensory inputs and thus bias competition for attention toward the representation of emotionally salient stimuli.

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