Attention and emotion: an ERP analysis of facilitated emotional stimulus processing

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Recent event-related potential studies observed an early posterior negativity (EPN) reflecting facilitated processing of emotional images. The present study explored if the facilitated processing of emotional pictures is sustained while subjects perform an explicit non-emotional attention task. EEG was recorded from 129 channels while subjects viewed a rapid continuous stream of images containing emotional pictures as well as task-related checkerboard images. As expected, explicit selective attention to target images elicited large P3 waves. Interestingly, emotional stimuli guided stimulus-driven selective encoding as reflected by augmented EPN amplitudes to emotional stimuli, in particular to stimuli of evolutionary significance (erotic contents, mutilations, and threat). These data demonstrate the selective encoding of emotional stimuli while top-down attentional control was directed towards non-emotional target stimuli.

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