Neural evidence for the threat detection advantage: Differential attention allocation to angry and happy faces


  • This research was supported by a grant of the German Research Foundation DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; SCHU 1330/5-1).

Address correspondence to: Tobias Feldmann-Wüstefeld, Experimental Psychology, Leopoldstr. 13, 80802 München, Germany. E-mail:


Threat stimuli are considered to be processed with higher priority due to an automatic threat detection system that enables rapid shifts of attention. However, direct evidence is still missing. The present study used the face-in-the-crowd task and event-related potentials to find evidence for the functionality of attention shifts in threat detection. The threat detection advantage was replicated in the behavioral results. An N2pc was observed that was more pronounced and earlier for angry compared to happy faces, suggesting differential attention allocation underlying the threat detection advantage. A larger sustained posterior contralateral negativity indicated that angry faces also gained more enhanced subsequent processing. An early posterior negativity observed 160 ms after stimulus onset revealed early emotion-specific processing that may have caused differences in attention allocation toward threatening stimuli.