Rapid Extraction of Emotion Regularities from Complex Scenes in the Human Brain


Adaptive behavior requires the rapid extraction of behaviorally relevant information in the environment, with particular emphasis on emotional cues. However, the speed of emotional feature extraction from complex visual environments is largely undetermined. Here we use objective electrophysiological recordings in combination with frequency tagging to demonstrate that the extraction of emotional information from neutral, pleasant, or unpleasant naturalistic scenes can be completed at a presentation speed of 167 ms (i.e., 6 Hz) under high perceptual load. Emotional compared to neutral pictures evoked enhanced electrophysiological responses with distinct topographical activation patterns originating from different neural sources. Cortical facilitation in early visual cortex was also more pronounced for scenes with pleasant compared to unpleasant or neutral content, suggesting a positivity offset mechanism dominating under conditions of rapid scene processing. These results significantly advance our knowledge of complex scene processing in demonstrating rapid integrative content identification, particularly for emotional cues relevant for adaptive behavior in complex environments.

Collabra: Psychology
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