The influence of selective attention to specific emotions on the processing of faces as revealed by event‐related brain potentials.

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    • Abstract:
      Event‐related potential studies using affective words have indicated that selective attention to valence can increase affective discrimination at early perceptual stages. This effect most likely relies on neural associations between perceptual features of a stimulus and its affective value. Similar to words, emotional expressions in human faces are linked to specific visual elements. Therefore, selectively attending to a given emotion should allow for the preactivation of neural networks coding for the emotion and associated first‐order visual elements, leading to enhanced early processing of faces expressing the attended emotion. To investigate this, we employed an expression detection task (N = 65). Fearful, happy, and neutral faces were randomly presented in three blocks while participants were instructed to respond only to one predefined target level of expression in each block. Reaction times were the fastest for happy target faces, which was accompanied by an increased occipital P1 for happy compared with fearful faces. The N170 yielded an arousal effect (emotional > neutral) while both components were not modulated by target status. In contrast, the early posterior negativity (EPN) arousal effect tended to be larger for target compared with nontarget faces. The late positive potential (LPP) revealed large effects of status and expression as well as an interaction driven by an increased LPP specifically for nontarget fearful faces. These findings tentatively indicate that selective attention to facial affect may enhance early emotional processing (EPN) even though further research is needed. Moreover, late controlled processing of facial emotions appears to involve a negativity bias. Recent research suggests that selective attention to emotional stimuli can improve affective discrimination at early perceptual stages. Using emotional faces, we find indications that selective attention to facial affect might boost emotional processing during the EPN time window. Additionally, late controlled processing of facial emotions appears to involve a negativity bias and the increased allocation of resources toward attended (relative to unattended) faces. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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