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Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(7):808-17.

Rapid extraction of emotional expression: evidence from evoked potential fields during brief presentation of face stimuli.

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Institute of Physiology, Justus Liebig University, 35392 Giessen, Germany.


Although the emotional expression of faces is believed to be accessed rapidly, previous ERP studies hardly found correlates of these processes. Here, we report findings from a study that investigated dichoptic binocular interaction using emotional face stimuli. Thirty-one subjects were briefly presented with schematic normal and scrambled faces (of neutral, positive, or negative expression) that occurred simultaneously in the left and right visual fields. Stimuli for both eyes could be congruent (control) or incongruent (dichoptic). Subjects decided which of the superimposed images in both hemi-fields appeared more "face-like" and during this task, the EEG was recorded from 30 channels. VEPs were analysed topographically according to the influence of the different experimental conditions (defined by presentation form, emotional expression, and location). Behavioural responses to the ambiguous dichoptic stimuli demonstrated a functional eye dominance not related to visual acuity and conventional eye preference. Electrophysiological data revealed three components with mean latencies of 85, 160, and 310 ms. Topography of the second component (equivalent to the face-related N170) differed in left-right and anterior-posterior direction compared with simple checkerboard stimuli. Dichoptic presentation caused reduced field strength of all three, and increased latency of the first component. Faces with negative expression yielded largest field strength of the second and third components. Besides that, emotional expression affected topography not only of late, but also the first component. This provides new evidence about the timing of perceptual processes related to facial expression, indicating that already VEP components occurring at 80-90 ms are sensitive to emotional content.

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