Louisa Kulke, Lena Brümmer, Arezoo Pooresmaeili, and Annekathrin Schacht (accepted)

Overt and covert attention shifts to emotional faces – combining EEG, Eye-tracking and a Go/No-go paradigm


In everyday life, faces with emotional expressions quickly attract attention and eye-movements. To study the neural mechanisms of such emotion driven attention by means of event-related brain potentials (ERPs), tasks that employ covert shifts of attention are commonly used, in which participants need to inhibit natural eye-movements towards stimuli. It remains, however, unclear how shifts of attention to emotional faces with and without eye-movements differ from each other. The current preregistered study aimed to investigate neural differences between covert and overt emotion-driven attention. We combined eye-tracking with measurements of ERPs to compare shifts of attention to faces with happy, angry or neutral expressions when eye-movements were either executed (Go conditions) or withheld (No-go conditions). Happy and angry faces led to larger EPN amplitudes, shorter latencies of the P1 component and faster saccades, suggesting that emotional expressions significantly affected shifts of attention. Several ERPs (N170, EPN, LPC), were augmented in amplitude when attention was shifted with an eye-movement, indicating an enhanced neural processing of faces if eye-movements had to be executed together with a reallocation of attention. However, the modulation of ERPs by facial expressions did not differ between the Go and No-go conditions, suggesting that emotional content enhances both covert and overt shifts of attention. In summary, our results indicate that overt and covert attention shifts differ but are comparably affected by emotional content.

open data, preregistration, open access article