Julian Rellecke, Werner Sommer, and Annekathrin Schacht (2012)

Does processing of emotional facial expressions depend on intention? Time-resolved evidence from event-related brain potentials.

Biological Psychology, 90(1):23 - 32.

We assessed the automaticity of emotional face processing with respect to the intentionality criterion, holding that automatic processes are triggered independently of intention. For this purpose, we observed emotion processing in event-related brain potential (ERP) components under five different task conditions. ERP components included the P1, N170, the early posterior negativity (EPN), and the late positive complex (LPC). Enhanced processing at perceptual stages as indicated by P1, N170, and EPN effects occurred independently of intention in angry expressions. In contrast, the emotion-related LPC, a putative manifestation of higher-level, more elaborative processing stages, depended on the intentional state of the participants. This suggests an automatic threat-related processing bias at perceptual stages, while higher cognitive emotion encoding is subject to voluntary control. Moreover, an independent component analyses (ICA) showed that EPN and LPC activity occurred simultaneously, indicating perceptual and higher cognitive emotion encoding to occur in parallel.