Influence of attentional demands on the processing of emotional facial expressions in the amygdala.
Silvert L., Lepsien J., Fragopanagos N., Goolsby B., Kiss M., Taylor JG., Raymond JE., Shapiro KL., Eimer M., Nobre AC.
Recent studies have cast doubts on the appealing idea that the processing of threat-related stimuli in the amygdala is unconstrained by the availability of attentional resources. However, these studies exclusively used face stimuli presented at fixation and it is unclear whether their conclusion can apply to peripheral face stimuli. Thus, we designed an experiment in which we manipulated the perceptual attentional load of the task used to divert attention from peripheral face stimuli: participants were presented simultaneously with four peripheral pictures (two faces, either both neutral or both fearful, and two houses) that were slightly tilted, and had to match two of these pictures (defined by their position on the screen) either for orientation of the tilt or for identity. The identity task was confirmed to involve greater attentional load than the orientation task by differences in accuracy, reaction times, subsequent face recognition performance, and patterns of activation in several cortical regions. In the orientation task, ignored fearful faces led to stronger activation in the right amygdala than ignored neutral faces. However, this differential response was abolished when participants performed the difficult identity-matching task. Thus, emotional processing of peripheral faces in the amygdala also appears to depend on the available perceptual attentional resources.