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Fearful faces grab attention in the absence of late affective cortical responses


  • We are grateful to Maurizio Codispoti, Stefan Wiens, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the earlier version of this article and to Sho Tsuji for help during manuscript writing.

Address correspondence to: Koki Ikeda, Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Komaba 3-8-1, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, Japan. E-mail:


Previous studies utilizing the N2pc, an ERP correlate of attentional focusing, demonstrated that fearful faces grab attention regardless of their relevance to the current task. We tested whether this apparent automaticity was susceptible to high concurrent task demand, which is known to suppress other cortical and subcortical emotional evaluations. Our data revealed that the affective attentional capture occurred even under high task load, by which the late cortical affective activity (the LPP modulation) was entirely suppressed. We also confirmed that this effect did not occur to inverted faces and therefore required a holistic perception of facial expression. These results show that, given an intact processing of facial expression, attention is attracted by fearful faces in a relatively automatic fashion as compared to other cortical affective processes.