Dynamics of emotional effects on spatial attention in the human visual cortex.Prog Brain Res. 2006; 156:67-91.PB
An efficient detection of threat is crucial for survival and requires an appropriate allocation of attentional resources toward the location of potential danger. Recent neuroimaging studies have begun to uncover the brain machinery underlying the reflexive prioritization of spatial attention to locations of threat-related stimuli. Here, we review functional brain imaging experiments using event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a dot-probe paradigm with emotional face cues, in which we investigated the spatio-temporal dynamics of attentional orienting to a visual target when the latter is preceded by either a fearful or happy face, at the same (valid) location or at a different (invalid) location in visual periphery. ERP results indicate that fearful faces can bias spatial attention toward threat-related location, and enhance the amplitude of the early exogenous visual P1 activity generated within the extrastriate cortex in response to a target following a valid rather than invalid fearful face. Furthermore, this gain control mechanism in extrastriate cortex (at 130-150 ms) is preceded by an earlier modulation of activity in posterior parietal regions (at 40-80 ms) that may provide a critical source of top-down signals on visual cortex. Happy faces produced no modulation of ERPs in extrastriate and parietal cortex. fMRI data also show increased responses in the occipital visual cortex for valid relative to invalid targets following fearful faces, but in addition reveal significant decreases in intraparietal cortex and increases in orbitofrontal cortex when targets are preceded by an invalid fearful face, suggesting that negative emotional stimuli may not only draw but also hold spatial attention more strongly than neutral or positive stimuli. These data confirm that threat may act as a powerful exogenous cue and trigger reflexive shifts in spatial attention toward its location, through a rapid temporal sequence of neural events in parietal and temporo-occipital areas, with dissociable neural substrates for engagement benefits in attention affecting activity in extrastriate occipital areas and increased disengagement costs affecting intraparietal cortex. These brain-imaging results reveal how emotional signals related to threat can play an important role in modulating spatial attention to afford flexible perception and action.