Natural selective attention: Orienting and emotion


  • Many thanks to Peter Lang, my husband and long-term collaborator, from whom I have learned much and who has contributed in all ways to the research and theory presented here. The habituation data that are summarized here are primarily from an early unpublished study conducted with Pete Gianaros and a series of published studies conducted in collaboration with Maurizio Codispoti and Vera Ferrari. Thanks to all for their contributions. The research discussed here also benefited from the insights of many colleagues and students at weekly lab meetings over the years, who are simply too numerous to name individually but to whom sincere thanks are given as well.
    This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (P50 MH 72850) to the Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention (CSEA) at the University of Florida.

Address reprint requests to: Margaret M. Bradley, Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, Box 112766, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA. E-mail:


The foundations of orienting and attention are hypothesized to stem from activation of defensive and appetitive motivational systems that evolved to protect and sustain the life of the individual. Motivational activation initiates a cascade of perceptual and motor processes that facilitate the selection of appropriate behavior. Among these are detection of significance, indexed by a late centro-parietal positivity in the event-related potential, enhanced perceptual processing, indexed by a initial cardiac deceleration, and preparation for action, indexed by electrodermal changes. Data exploring the role of stimulus novelty and significance in orienting are presented that indicate different components of the orienting response habituate at different rates. Taken together, it is suggested that orienting is mediated by activation of fundamental motivational systems that have evolved to support survival.