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Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Jan;71(1):25-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.07.017. Epub 2008 Jul 30.

Visual processing in a facial emotional context: an ERP study.

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Instituto de Neurociencias (Universidad de Guadalajara), Mexico; O.P.D. Hospital Civil de Guadalajara, Mexico.


Facial emotional processing can be bypassed when faces are task-irrelevant and attention is diverted, although this effect has not been examined when cognitive task occurs within a facial background. Event-related potential (ERP) measures were obtained to evaluate the influence of different irrelevant facial emotional contexts on a simultaneous "ear-size" detection task performance in five processing contexts: (1) neutral face, (2) happy face, (3) fearful face, (4) facial contour, and (5) non-facial context. Reaction times were longer when visual processing occurred in a facial context, regardless of its emotional content. The context of neutral faces also demonstrated a lower number of correct responses, with fewer incorrect responses found during the presentation of fearful faces compared to the neutral facial context. ERP morphology was similar across all conditions, but ERP amplitude from components for the non-facial context was larger than that of the alternative conditions from 100 to 300 ms, with a similar N170-like potential also observed. The findings suggest that simultaneous irrelevant emotional facial stimuli may affect cognitive processing by altering two temporarily overlapped neural mechanisms: one responsible for earlier face detection, and the other involved in emotional recognition. The first might delay simultaneous cognitive actions by diverting attention, whereas while the latter may enhance the availability of processing resources through the participation of a subcortical pathway.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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