Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

ERP Evidence on the Interaction between Information Structure and Emotional Salience of Words

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

ERP Evidence on the Interaction between Information Structure and Emotional Salience of Words

Article excerpt

Abstract Both emotional words and words focused by information structure can capture attention. This study examined the interplay between emotional salience and information structure in modulating attentional resources in the service of integrating emotional words into sentence context. Event-related potentials (ERPs) to affectively negative, neutral, and positive words, which were either focused or nonfocused in question-answer pairs, were evaluated during sentence comprehension. The results revealed an early negative effect (90-200 ms), a P2 effect, as well as an effect in the N400 time window, for both emotional salience and information structure. Moreover, an interaction between emotional salience and information structure occurred within the N400 time window over right posterior electrodes, showing that information structure influences the semantic integration only for neutral words, but not for emotional words. This might reflect the fact that the linguistic salience of emotional words can override the effect of information structure on the integration of words into context. The interaction provides evidence for attention-emotion interactions at a later stage of processing. In addition, the absence of interaction in the early time window suggests that the processing of emotional information is highly automatic and independent of context. The results suggest independent attention capture systems of emotional salience and information structure at the early stage but an interaction between them at a later stage, during the semantic integration of words.

Keywords Information structure . Emotional salience . ERP . Attention . Language

Introduction

During language comprehension, readers and listeners do not attend equally to all aspects of sentential input. Rather, they devote their attentional resources to the most relevant and important elements. Generally, emotional information obtains prioritized processing due to its intrinsic significance; for example, potentially threatening or rewarding stimuli are biologically relevant to species survival (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1997). Aside from the intrinsic salience of the information, various linguistic devices can be used to highlight certain information in the language input. These devices constitute the markers of information structure (IS), which refers to the way in which elements of sentences are packed (Halliday, 1967; Jackendoff, 2002). Although it has been well established that both emotional salience and IS modulate attentional resources, to date no studies have investigated their interaction during language comprehension. Before illustrating why an interaction is plausible, we will briefly summarize studies concerning their roles in language processing.

Emotional affect has been conceptualized along two dimensions: valence and arousal (Russell, 1980). While valence describes the extent of pleasure or sadness, arousal illustrates the extent of calmness or excitation. These two dimensions are often correlated in real-world experience. For instance, valenced stimuli tend to be high arousal, and stimuli with higher intensity tend to amplify valence. Here, we focused on the role of emotional salience, which involves both valence and arousal during language comprehension. Due to their high temporal resolution, event-related potentials (ERPs) are an excellent tool for examining the stages of language processing that are modulated by different variables. So far, most ERP studies on emotion and language have employed isolated words as stimuli. Several ERP components have been associated with the processing of emotional words (for a review, see Citron, 2012). First, larger P1 and N1 amplitudes have been reported for emotional words than for neutral words. Following the early P1 and N1 components, a P2 difference between words with different valence values (larger P2 for emotional or positive words than for neutral words) has also been reported (Herbert, Kissler, Junghöfer, Peyk, & Rockstroh, 2006; Kanske & Kotz, 2007; Ortigue et al. …

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