To investigate whether the processing of emotional expression for faces presented within foveal vision is modulated by spatial attention, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in response to stimulus arrays containing one fearful or neutral face at fixation, which was flanked by a pair of peripheral bilateral lines. When attention was focused on the central face, an enhanced positivity was elicited by fearful as compared to neutral faces. This effect started at 160 ms post-stimulus, and remained present for the remainder of the 700 ms analysis interval. When attention was directed away from the face towards the line pair, the initial phase of this emotional positivity remained present, but emotional expression effects beyond 220 ms post-stimulus were completely eliminated. These results demonstrate that when faces are presented foveally, the initial rapid stage of emotional expression processing is unaffected by attention. In contrast, attentional task instructions are effective in inhibiting later, more controlled stages of expression analysis
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