Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 123–137 | Cite as

Spatial attention affects the early processing of neutral versus fearful faces when they are task-irrelevant: a classifier study of the EEG C1 component

  • David AcunzoEmail author
  • Graham MacKenzie
  • Mark C. W. van Rossum


EEG studies suggest that the emotional content of visual stimuli is processed rapidly. In particular, the C1 component, which occurs up to 100 ms after stimulus onset and likely reflects activity in primary visual cortex V1, has been reported to be sensitive to emotional faces. However, difficulties replicating these results have been reported. We hypothesized that the nature of the task and attentional condition are key to reconcile the conflicting findings. We report three experiments of EEG activity during the C1 time range elicited by peripherally presented neutral and fearful faces under various attentional conditions: the faces were spatially attended or unattended and were either task-relevant or not. Using traditional event-related potential analysis, we found that the early activity changed depending on facial expression, attentional condition, and task. In addition, we trained classifiers to discriminate the different conditions from the EEG signals. Although the classifiers were not able to discriminate between facial expressions in any condition, they uncovered differences between spatially attended and unattended faces but solely when these were task-irrelevant. In addition, this effect was only present for neutral faces. Our study provides further indication that attention and task are key parameters when measuring early differences between emotional and neutral visual stimuli.


Attention C1 component Classifiers MVPA EEG Facial expression 



DA was supported by the Doctoral Training Centre in Neuroinformatics of the University of Edinburgh (UK), which is co-funded by the EPSRC/MRC grant EP/F500386/1 and BBSRC BB/F529254/1.

Supplementary material

13415_2018_650_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 30 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Acunzo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Graham MacKenzie
    • 2
  • Mark C. W. van Rossum
    • 3
  1. 1.CIMeC/University of TrentoRoveretoItaly
  2. 2.Psychology, Faculty of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.School of Psychology and School of Mathematical SciencesUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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