Influence of Attention Control on Implicit and Explicit Emotion Processing of Face and Body: Evidence From Flanker and Same-or-Different Paradigms

Viola Oldrati, Alessandra Bardoni, Geraldina Poggi, Cosimo Urgesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many existing findings indicate that processing of emotional information is pre-attentive, largely immune from attentional control. Nevertheless, inconsistent evidence on the interference of emotional cues on cognitive processing suggests that this influence may be a highly conditional phenomenon. The aim of the present study was twofold: (1) to examine the modulation of attention control on emotion processing using facial expressions (2) explore the very same effect for emotional body expressions. In Experiment 1, participants performed a Flanker task in which they had to indicate either the emotion (happy/fearful) or the gender of the target stimulus while ignoring the distracting stimuli at the side. We found evidence for intrusion of the emotional dimension of a stimulus in both the emotion and gender discrimination performance, thus when either task-relevant or task-irrelevant. To further explore the influence of attention control mechanisms, in Experiment 2 participants performed a same-or-different judgment task in which they were asked to pay attention to both the central and lateral stimuli and indicated whether the central stimulus matched the lateral for emotion or gender. Results showed that emotional features exerted an influence at an implicit level (i.e., during gender judgments) for bodies only. Gender features did not affect emotional processing in either experiments. To rule out the possibility that this effect was driven by postural rather than emotional features of fearful vs. happy stimuli, a control experiment was conducted. In Experiment 3, bodies with an opening/up-ward or closing/down-ward posture but with no emotional valence were presented. Results revealed that the body posture did not influence gender discrimination. Findings suggest that the emotional valence of a face or body stimulus can overpass attention filtering mechanisms, independently from the level of attentional modulation (Experiment 1). However, broadening the focus of attention to include the lateral stimuli led emotional information to intrude on the main task, exerting an implicit, bottom–up influence on gender processing, only when conveyed by bodies (Experiment 2). Results point to different mechanisms for the implicit processing of face and body emotional expressions, with the latter likely having role on action preparation processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2971
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 21 2020


  • body expression
  • bottom–up interference
  • emotion
  • face expression
  • implicit processing
  • top–down control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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