Several studies on hemodynamic brain activity indicate that emotional visual stimuli elicit greater activation than neutral stimuli in attention-related areas such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the visual association cortex (VAC). In order to explore the temporo-spatial characteristics of the interaction between attention and emotion, two processes characterized by involving short and rapid phases, event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured in 29 subjects using a 60-electrode array and the LORETA source localization software. A cue/target paradigm was employed in order to investigate both expectancy-related and input processing related attention. Four categories of stimuli were presented to subjects: positive arousing, negative arousing, relaxing, and neutral. Three attention-related components were finally analyzed: N280pre (from pretarget ERPs), P200post and P340post (both from posttarget ERPs). N280pre had a prefrontal focus (ACC and/or medial prefrontal cortex) and presented significantly lower amplitudes in response to cues announcing negative targets. This result suggests a greater capacity of nonaversive stimuli to generate expectancy-related attention. P200post and P340post were both elicited in the VAC, and showed their highest amplitudes in response to negative- and to positive-arousing stimuli, respectively. The origin of P200post appears to be located dorsally with respect to the clear ventral-stream origin of P340post. The conjunction of temporal and spatial characteristics of P200post and P340post leads to the deduction that input processing-related attention associated with emotional visual stimulation involves an initial, rapid, and brief ‘early’ attentional response oriented to rapid motor action, being more prominent towards negative stimulation. This is followed by a slower but longer ‘late’ attentional response oriented to deeper processing, elicited to a greater extent by appetitive stimulation.

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