and Louisa Kulke

Neural mechanisms of overt attention shifts to emotional faces


Emotional faces draw attention and eye-movements towards them. However, the neural mechanisms of attention have mainly been investigated during fixation, which is uncommon in everyday life where people move their eyes to shift attention to faces. Therefore, the current study combined eye-tracking and Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure neural mechanisms of overt attention shifts to faces with happy, neutral and angry expressions, allowing participants to move their eyes freely towards the stimuli. Saccade latencies towards peripheral faces did not differ depending on expression and early neural response (P1) amplitudes and latencies were unaffected. However, the later occurring Early Posterior Negativity (EPN) was significantly larger for emotional than for neutral faces. This response appears after saccades towards the faces. Therefore, emotion modulations only occurred after an overt shift of gaze towards the stimulus had already been completed. Visual saliency rather than emotional content may therefore drive early saccades, while later top-down processes reflect emotion processing.