Anxiety and spatial attention moderate the electrocortical response to aversive pictures. Academic Article uri icon


  • Aversive stimuli capture attention and elicit increased neural activity, as indexed by behavioral, electrocortical and hemodynamic measures; moreover, individual differences in anxiety relate to a further increased sensitivity to threatening stimuli. Evidence has been mixed, however, as to whether aversive pictures elicit increased neural response when presented in unattended spatial locations. In the current study, ERP and behavioral data were recorded from 49 participants as aversive and neutral pictures were simultaneously presented in spatially attended and unattended locations; on each trial, participants made same/different judgments about pictures presented in attended locations. Aversive images presented in unattended locations resulted in increased error rate and reaction time. The late positive potential (LPP) component of the ERP was only larger when aversive images were presented in attended locations, and this increase was positively correlated with self-reported state anxiety. Findings are discussed in regard to the sensitivity of ERP and behavioral responses to aversive distracters, and in terms of increased neural processing of threatening stimuli in anxiety.

published proceedings

  • Neuropsychologia

author list (cited authors)

  • MacNamara, A., & Hajcak, G.

citation count

  • 96

complete list of authors

  • MacNamara, Annmarie||Hajcak, Greg

publication date

  • November 2009