Objectives: Although behavioral studies have demonstrated that normative affective traits modulate the processing of facial and emotionally charged stimuli, direct electrophysiological evidence for this modulation is still lacking. Methods: Event-related potential (ERP) data associated with personal, traitlike approach- or withdrawal-related attitude (assessed post- recording and 14 months later) were investigated in 18 subjects during task- free (i.e. unrequested, spontaneous) emotional evaluation of faces. Temporal and spatial aspects of 27 channel ERP were analyzed with microstate analysis and low resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA), a new method to compute 3 dimensional cortical current density implemented in the Talairach brain atlas. Results: Microstate analysis showed group differences 132-196 and 196-272 ms poststimulus, with right-shifted electric gravity centers for subjects with negative affective attitude. During these (over subjects reliably identifiable) personality-modulated, face-elicited microstates, LORETA revealed activation of bilateral occipito-temporal regions, reportedly associated with facial configuration extraction processes. Negative compared to positive affective attitude showed higher activity right temporal; positive compared to negative attitude showed higher activity left temporo- parieto-occipital. Conclusions: These temporal and spatial aspects suggest that the subject groups differed in brain activity at early, automatic, stimulus-related face processing steps when structural face encoding (configuration extraction) occurs. In sum, the brain functional microstates associated with affect-related personality features modulate brain mechanisms during face processing already at early information processing stages. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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