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Trees over forest: unpleasant stimuli compete for attention with global features

Hartikainen, Kaisa M.a c d; Ogawa, Keith H.b; Knight, Robert T.a

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328336eeb3

Whether emotional distracters call for attentional resources has been discussed in several studies. We have earlier shown that brief unpleasant distracters captured right hemisphere (RH) attentional resources as evidenced with reduced event-related potential responses and increased reaction times to nonemotional left visual field/RH targets. The aim of this study was to investigate whether emotional distracters selectively interfere with processes predominantly relying on the RH such as processing global visual features. Evoked potentials were recorded from 18 participants carrying out a visual discrimination task engaging global RH and local left hemisphere-dependent processes. Unpleasant distracters reduced global target detection-related right parietal activity. We conclude that brief unpleasant distracters compete for RH attentional resources with global level processing.

aDepartment of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley

bJohn Magaddino Neuroscience Laboratory, Saint Mary's College of California, Moraga, California, USA

cDepartment of Neurology, Tampere University Hospital

dFaculty of Medicine, Department of Physiology, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

Correspondence to Dr Kaisa M. Hartikainen, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, Tampere University Hospital, PO Box 2000, 33521 Tampere, Finland

Tel: +358 3 311 611; fax: +358 3 311 64351; e-mail:

Received 17 December 2009 accepted 23 December 2009

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.