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Emotions Trigger Attention, Perception

Link Could Reveal Mechanisms Behind Mental Disorders

Nov. 8, 2002 -- Emotion plays an important role in attention, memory, reasoning, and other forms of thought -- something scientists are increasingly beginning to appreciate.

A recent study suggests that people pay attention faster to stimuli that provoke an emotional response, such as looking at a picture of a snake or spider, writes researcher R. J. Dolan, PhD, a neurologist with the Institute of Neurology in London. His report appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.

The brain's emotion-related machinery seems to be distinct from -- but somehow linked to -- the parts of the brain that control attention and perception, he says.

Similarly, the emotional machinery also influences those brain structures involved in forming memories and making decisions.

Because emotion plays a powerful part of human reasoning and lack of emotional stability underlies a range of mental disorders, such as neurosis or psychosis, understanding how emotions interact with attention, perception, and memory will help reveal the mechanisms of these disorders.

Further research in these areas will be important in understanding many psychiatric disorders, Dolan says. -->