Emotionally arousing scenes readily capture visual attention, prompting amplified neural activity in sensory regions of the brain. The physical stimulus features and related information channels in the human visual system that contribute to this modulation, however, are not known. Here, we manipulated low-level physical parameters of complex scenes varying in hedonic valence and emotional arousal in order to target the relative contributions of luminance based versus chromatic visual channels to emotional perception. Stimulus-evoked brain electrical activity was measured during picture viewing and used to quantify neural responses sensitive to lower-tier visual cortical involvement (steady-state visual evoked potentials) as well as the late positive potential, reflecting a more distributed cortical event. Results showed that the enhancement for emotional content was stimulus-selective when examining the steady-state segments of the evoked visual potentials. Response amplification was present only for low spatial frequency, grayscale stimuli, and not for high spatial frequency, red/green stimuli. In contrast, the late positive potential was modulated by emotion regardless of the scene's physical properties. Our findings are discussed in relation to neurophysiologically plausible constraints operating at distinct stages of the cortical processing stream.
- affective perception
- steady-state visual evoked potentials
- late positive potential
- visual cortex
- spatial frequency