Emotionally negative pictures increase attention to a subsequent auditory stimulus

Jaime L. Tartar, Kristen de Almeida, Roger C. McIntosh, Monica Rosselli, Allan J. Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Emotionally negative stimuli serve as a mechanism of biological preparedness to enhance attention. We hypothesized that emotionally negative stimuli would also serve as motivational priming to increase attention resources for subsequent stimuli. To that end, we tested 11 participants in a dual sensory modality task, wherein emotionally negative pictures were contrasted with emotionally neutral pictures and each picture was followed 600. ms later by a tone in an auditory oddball paradigm. Each trial began with a picture displayed for 200. ms; half of the trials began with an emotionally negative picture and half of the trials began with an emotionally neutral picture; 600. ms following picture presentation, the participants heard either an oddball tone or a standard tone. At the end of each trial (picture followed by tone), the participants categorized, with a button press, the picture and tone combination. As expected, and consistent with previous studies, we found an enhanced visual late positive potential (latency range = 300-700. ms) to the negative picture stimuli. We further found that compared to neutral pictures, negative pictures resulted in early attention and orienting effects to subsequent tones (measured through an enhanced N1 and N2) and sustained attention effects only to the subsequent oddball tones (measured through late processing negativity, latency range = 400-700. ms). Number pad responses to both the picture and tone category showed the shortest response latencies and greatest percentage of correct picture-tone categorization on the negative picture followed by oddball tone trials. Consistent with previous work on natural selective attention, our results support the idea that emotional stimuli can alter attention resource allocation. This finding has broad implications for human attention and performance as it specifically shows the conditions in which an emotionally negative stimulus can result in extended stimulus evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-44
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective priming
  • Dual-modality
  • Emotion
  • Event-related potentials
  • International Affective Picture System
  • Motivational priming
  • Processing negativity
  • Selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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