Neural mechanisms of eye gaze processing as a function of emotional expression and working memory load.
Tipura E., Fox E.
The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of working memory load on the gaze cueing effect in high and low trait-anxious participants, using electroencephalography. Fearful and neutral faces predicted the location of a target, which was a digit that participants were asked to recall from a series encoded in each trial, in a modified version of the attentional cueing task. Working memory load impacted cueing irrespective of emotion and anxiety in analysis of reaction times. Lateralized EEG components then showed that effects of emotion were only apparent in high anxious individuals, with an initial hypervigilance to target locations cued by fearful faces, followed by a difficulty to disengage from these locations when targets appeared at uncued sites (P1). Enhanced amplitude following fearful faces was observed, when discriminative processes leading to response selection are implemented (N1). Conversely, all the effects of working memory load were independent of emotion in the low anxious group, where the shifting of attention directed by the gaze was only visible when enough resources were available in the working memory span. Working memory loads impacted the processing of gaze differently (P1) in low anxious participants, suggesting that top-down influence may play a role in this case.