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Open Access Research article

Emotional event-related potentials are larger to figures than scenes but are similarly reduced by inattention

Henrik Nordström and Stefan Wiens*

Author affiliations

Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-49

Published: 20 May 2012

Abstract

Background

In research on event-related potentials (ERP) to emotional pictures, greater attention to emotional than neutral stimuli (i.e., motivated attention) is commonly indexed by two difference waves between emotional and neutral stimuli: the early posterior negativity (EPN) and the late positive potential (LPP). Evidence suggests that if attention is directed away from the pictures, then the emotional effects on EPN and LPP are eliminated. However, a few studies have found residual, emotional effects on EPN and LPP. In these studies, pictures were shown at fixation, and picture composition was that of simple figures rather than that of complex scenes. Because figures elicit larger LPP than do scenes, figures might capture and hold attention more strongly than do scenes. Here, we showed negative and neutral pictures of figures and scenes and tested first, whether emotional effects are larger to figures than scenes for both EPN and LPP, and second, whether emotional effects on EPN and LPP are reduced less for unattended figures than scenes.

Results

Emotional effects on EPN and LPP were larger for figures than scenes. When pictures were unattended, emotional effects on EPN increased for scenes but tended to decrease for figures, whereas emotional effects on LPP decreased similarly for figures and scenes.

Conclusions

Emotional effects on EPN and LPP were larger for figures than scenes, but these effects did not resist manipulations of attention more strongly for figures than scenes. These findings imply that the emotional content captures attention more strongly for figures than scenes, but that the emotional content does not hold attention more strongly for figures than scenes.