Netherlands Journal of Psychology

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 168–176 | Cite as

Processing of pleasant information can be as fast and strong as unpleasant information: implications for the negativity bias

  • Ingmar H. A. Franken
  • Peter Muris
  • Ilse Nijs
  • Jan W. van Strien


Several theoretical accounts state that negative or unpleasant information is processed ‘faster’ and activates more attentional resources than neutral and positive information. This notion is confirmed by several experimental studies. However, these studies did not employ equal values of emotional salience and arousal for positive and negative stimuli. In the present study we examine whether positive stimuli (erotic bodies) are processed as fast and strongly as negative information (mutilated bodies) when equally arousing, biologically relevant stimuli are used. Electrophysiological correlates of the processing of biologically relevant high-arousing emotional stimuli are studied using Event-Related Brain Potentials (ERPs). Results showed that both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli are processed fast and preferentially in the brain, within 100-200 ms after stimulus onset. These studies indicate that, on the electrophysiological level, pleasant stimuli are processed as ‘fast and strongly’ as unpleasant stimuli if arousal values of the stimuli are high. Implications of these findings for theories of emotion and psychopathology are discussed. (Netherlands Journal of Psychology, 64, 169-177.).


emotion negativity bias ERP attentional bias emotional processing 


  1. Anokhin, A. P., Golosheykin, S., Sirevaag, E., Kristjansson, S., Rohrbaugh, J. W., & Heath, A. C. (2006). Rapid discrimination of visual scene content in the human brain. Brain Research, 1093, 167-177.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 1-24.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baumgartner, T., Willi, M., & Jancke, L. (2007). Modulation of corticospinal activity by strong emotions evoked by pictures and classical music: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study. Neuroreport, 18, 261-265.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Carretie, L., Mercado, F., Tapia, M., & Hinojosa, J. A. (2001). Emotion, attention, and the ‘negativity bias’, studied through event-related potentials. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 41, 75-85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Crandall, J. E. (1975). ‘Negativity bias’ in evaluative ratings. Journal of Social Psychology, 95, 109-116.Google Scholar
  7. Cuthbert, B. N., Schupp, H. T., Bradley, M. M., Birbaumer, N., & Lang, P. J. (2000). Brain potentials in affective picture processing: covariation with autonomic arousal and affective report. Biological Psychology, 52, 95-111.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Delplanque, S., Silvert, L., Hot, P., Rigoulot, S., & Sequeira, H. (2006). Arousal and valence effects on event-related P3a and P3b during emotional categorization. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 60, 315-322.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Gratton, G., Coles, M. G. H., & Donchin, E. (1983). A new method for off-line removal of ocular artifact. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 55, 468-484.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Hajcak, G., Molnar, C., George, M. S., Bolger, K., Koola, J., & Nahas, Z. (2007). Emotion facilitates action: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study of motor cortex excitability during picture viewing. Psychophysiology, 44, 91-97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Hajcak, G., & Olvet, D. M. (2008). The persistence of attention to emotion: brain potentials during and after picture presentation. Emotion, 8, 250-255.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Ito, T. A., Larsen, J. T., Smith, N. K., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: the negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 887-900.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Koster, E. H., Verschuere, B., Crombez, G., & Van Damme, S. (2005). Time-course of attention for threatening pictures in high and low trait anxiety. Behaviour research and therapy, 43, 1087-1098.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (1990). Emotion, attention, and the startle reflex. Psychological Review, 97, 377-395.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (1997). Motivated attention: Affect, activation, and action. In P. J. Lang, R. F. Simons & M. Balaban (editors), Attention and orienting: sensory and motivational processes (pp. 97-136). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.Google Scholar
  16. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (1999). International affective picture system (IAPS): Instruction Manual and Affective Ratings. Gainsville, FL: The Center for Research in Psychophysiology, University of Florida.Google Scholar
  17. Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. LeDoux, J. (1998). Fear and the brain: Where have we been, and where are we going? Biological Psychiatry, 44, 1229-1238.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. McNally, R. J. (1998). Information-processing abnormalities in anxiety disorders - implications for cognitive neuroscience. Cognition and Emotion, 12, 479-495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. (1998). A cognitive-motivational analysis of anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 809-848.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Morris, J. S., Öhman, A., & Dolan, R. J. (1998). Conscious and unconscious emotional learning in the human amygdala. Nature, 393, 467-470.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Öhman, A. (1997). As fast as the blink of an eye: Evolutionary prepardness for preattentive processing of threat. In P. J. Lang, R. F. Simons & M. Balaban (editors.), Attention and orienting: sensory and motivational processes (pp. 477). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.Google Scholar
  23. Posner, M. I. (1980). Orienting of attention. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 32, 3-25.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Pourtois, G., Thut, G., Grave de Peralta, R., Michel, C., & Vuilleumier, P. (2005). Two electrophysiological stages of spatial orienting towards fearful faces: early temporo-parietal activation preceding gain control in extrastriate visual cortex. NeuroImage, 26, 149-163.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Pratto, F., & John, O. P. (1991). Automatic vigilance: the attention-grabbing power of negative social information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 380-391.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Sabatinelli, D., Lang, P. J., Keil, A., & Bradley, M. M. (2007). Emotional perception: correlation of functional MRI and event-related potentials. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 1085-1091.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Sander, D., Grafman, J., & Zalla, T. (2003). The human amygdala: an evolved system for relevance detection. Reviews in the Neurosciences, 14, 303-316.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Schupp, H., Cuthbert, B. N., Bradley, M. M., Hillman, C. H., Hamm, A. O., & Lang, P. J. (2004). Brain processes in emotional perception: Motivated attention. Cognition and Emotion, 18, 593-611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schupp, H. T., Flaisch, T., Stockburger, J., & Junghofer, M. (2006). Emotion and attention: event-related brain potential studies. Progress in Brain Research, 156, 31-51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Schupp, H. T., Junghoefer, M., Weike, A. I., & Hamm, A. O. (2003a). Attention and emotion: an ERP analysis of facilitated emotional stimulus processing. Neuroreport, 14, 1107-1110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Schupp, H. T., Junghoefer, M., Weike, A. I., & Hamm, A. O. (2003b). Emotional facilitation of sensory processing in the visual cortex. Psychological Science, 14, 7-13.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Schupp, H. T., Junghoefer, M., Weike, A. I., & Hamm, A. O. (2004). The selective processing of briefly presented affective pictures: An ERP analysis. Psychophysiology, 41, 441-449.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Schupp, H. T., Stockburger, J., Bublatzky, F., Junghofer, M., Weike, A. I., & Hamm, A. O. (2007). Explicit attention interferes with selective emotion processing in human extrastriate cortex. BMC Neuroscience, 8, 16.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Schupp, H. T., Stockburger, J., Codispoti, M., Junghofer, M., Weike, A. I., & Hamm, A. O. (2007). Selective visual attention to emotion. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 1082-1089.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith, N. K., Cacioppo, J. T., Larsen, J. T., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). May I have your attention, please: Electrocortical responses to positive and negative stimuli. Neuropsychologia, 41, 171-183.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Tipples, J., & Sharma, D. (2000). Orienting to exogenous cues and attentional bias to affective pictures reflect separate processes. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 87-97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. VanRullen, R., & Thorpe, S. J. (2001). The time course of visual processing: from early perception to decision-making. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 454-461.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Vuilleumier, P. (2005). How brains beware: neural mechanisms of emotional attention. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 585-594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vuilleumier, P., & Driver, J. (2007). Modulation of visual processing by attention and emotion: windows on causal interactions between human brain regions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362, 837-855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vuilleumier, P., Richardson, M. P., Armony, J. L., Driver, J., & Dolan, R. J. (2004). Distant influences of amygdala lesion on visual cortical activation during emotional face processing. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 1271-1278.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Yuan, J., Zhang, Q., Chen, A., Li, H., Wang, Q., Zhuang, Z., et al. (in press). Are we sensitive to valence differences in emotionally negative stimuli? Electrophysiological evidence from an ERP study. Neuropsychologia.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bohn Stafleu van Loghum 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingmar H. A. Franken
    • 1
  • Peter Muris
    • 1
  • Ilse Nijs
    • 1
  • Jan W. van Strien
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations