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A Fast Neural Signature of Motivated Attention to Consumer Goods Separates the Sexes

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00179
  • Neuroscience
  • Original Research


Emotional stimuli guide selective visual attention and receive enhanced processing. Previous event-related potential studies have identified an early (>120 ms) negative potential shift over occipito-temporal regions (early posterior negativity, EPN) presumed to indicate the facilitated processing of survival-relevant stimuli. The present study investigated whether this neural signature of motivated attention is also responsive to the intrinsic significance of man-made objects and consumer goods. To address this issue, we capitalized on gender differences towards specific man-made objects, shoes and motorcycles, for which the Statistical Yearbook 2005 of Germany's Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2005) revealed pronounced differences in consumer behavior. In a passive viewing paradigm, male and female participants viewed pictures of motorcycles and shoes, while their magnetoencephalographic brain responses were measured. Source localization of the magnetic counterpart of the EPN (EPNm) revealed pronounced gender differences in picture processing. Specifically, between 130 and 180 ms, all female participants generated stronger activity in occipito-temporal regions when viewing shoes compared to motorcycles, while all men except one showed stronger activation for motorcycles than shoes. Thus, the EPNm allowed a sex-dimorphic classification of the processing of consumer goods. Self-report data confirmed gender differences in consumer behavior, which, however, were less distinct compared to the brain based measure. Considering the latency of the EPNm, the reflected automatic emotional network activity is most likely not yet affected by higher cognitive functions such as response strategies or social expectancy. Non-invasive functional neuroimaging measures of early brain activity may thus serve as objective measure for individual preferences towards consumer goods.

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