A central controversy in the field of attention is how the brain deals with emotional distractors and to what extent they capture attentional processing resources reflexively due to their inherent significance for guidance of adaptive behavior and survival. Especially, the time course of competitive interactions in early visual areas and whether masking of briefly presented emotional stimuli can inhibit biasing of processing resources in these areas is currently unknown. We recorded frequency-tagged potentials evoked by a flickering target detection task in the foreground of briefly presented emotional or neutral pictures that were followed by a mask in human subjects. We observed greater competition for processing resources in early visual cortical areas with shortly presented emotional relative to neutral pictures ~275 ms after picture offset. This was paralleled by a reduction of target detection rates in trials with emotional pictures ~400 ms after picture offset. Our finding that briefly presented emotional distractors are able to bias attention well after their offset provides evidence for a rather slow feedback or reentrant neural competition mechanism for emotional distractors that continues after the offset of the emotional stimulus.
Müller, M. M., Andersen, S. K., & Hindi Attar, C. (2011). Attentional bias to briefly presented emotional distractors follows a slow time course in visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(44), 15914-15918. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1997-11.2011