Attentional bias during emotional processing: behavioral and electrophysiological evidence from an emotional flanker task

Natalia Trujillo, Diana Gómez, Sandra Trujillo, José David López, Agustin Ibáñez, Mario A. Parra

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Abstract

Threatening stimuli seem to capture attention more swiftly than neutral stimuli. This attention bias has been observed under different experimental conditions and with different types of stimuli. It remains unclear whether this adaptive behaviour reflects the function of automatic or controlled attention mechanisms. Additionally, the spatiotemporal dynamics of its neural correlates are largely unknown. The present study investigates these issues using an Emotional Flanker Task synchronized with EEG recordings. A group of 32 healthy participants saw response-relevant images (emotional scenes from IAPS or line drawings of objects) flanked by response-irrelevant distracters (i.e., emotional scenes flanked by line drawings or vice versa). We assessed behavioural and ERP responses drawn from four task conditions (Threat-Central, Neutral-Central, Threat-Peripheral, and Neutral-Peripheral) and subjected these responses to repeated measures ANOVA models. When presented as response-relevant targets, threatening images attracted faster and more accurate responses. They did not affect response accuracy to targets when presented as response-irrelevant flankers. However, response times were significantly slower when threatening images flanked objects than when neutral images were shown as flankers. This result replicated the well-known Emotional flanker Effect. Behavioural responses to response-relevant threatening targets were accompanied by significant modulations of ERP activity across all time-windows and regions of interest and displayed some meaningful correlations. The Emotional Flanker Effect was accompanied by a modulation over parietal and central-parietal regions within a time-window between 550-690ms. Such a modulation suggests that the attentional disruption to targets caused by response-irrelevant threatening flankers appears to reflect less neural resources available, which are seemingly drawn away by distracting threatening flankers. The observed spatiotemporal dynamics seem to concur with understanding of the
important adaptive role attributed to threat-related attention bias.
Original languageEnglish
Article number e0249407
Number of pages20
JournalPLOS One
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2021

Keywords

  • emotional flanker task
  • IAPS
  • threatening stimuli
  • ERP activity
  • emotional attention

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