Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Brain Processing of Task-Relevant and Task-Irrelevant Emotional Words: An ERP Study

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Brain Processing of Task-Relevant and Task-Irrelevant Emotional Words: An ERP Study

Article excerpt

Published online: 31 January 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Although there is evidence for preferential perceptual processing ofwritten emotional information, the effects of attentional manipulations and the time course of affective processing require further clarification. In this study, we attempted to investigate how the emotional content of words modulates cerebral functioning (event-related potentials, ERPs) and behavior (reaction times, RTs) when the content is task-irrelevant (emotional Stroop Task, EST) or taskrelevant (emotional categorization task, ECT), in a sample of healthy middle-aged women. In the EST, the RTs were longer for emotional words than for neutral words, and in the ECT, they were longer for neutral and negative words than for positive words. A principal components analysis of the ERPs identified various temporospatial factors that were differentially modified by emotional content. P2was the first emotionsensitive component, with enhanced factor scores for negative nouns across tasks. The N2 and late positive complex had enhanced factor scores for emotional relative to neutral information only in the ECT. The results reinforce the idea that written emotional information has a preferential processing route, both when it is task-irrelevant (producing behavioral interference) and when it is task-relevant (facilitating the categorization). After early automatic processing of the emotional content, late ERPs become more emotionally modulated as the level of attention to the valence increases.

Keywords Attention . Emotional Stroop . Emotional categorization . ERPs . Women . Words

Cognitive processes are affected by emotion. Many studies have shown preferential perceptual processing of emotional information, especially for threatening content (see Dolan, 2002, for a review). People pay attention more readily to, and are slower in disengaging from, emotional than neutral stimuli (Fox, Russo, Bowles, & Dutton, 2001; Hajcak & Olvet, 2008; Vuilleumier, 2005). These types of effects have been observed for visual stimulation, such as pictures (e.g., Foti, Hajcak, & Dien, 2009) and faces (Adolphs, 2002), and also for symbolic and learned stimuli, such as words (Kissler, Assadollahi, & Herbert, 2006). Abnormalities in the processing of emotional information have been described in numerous psychiatric pathologies (Phillips,Drevets, Rauch, &Lane, 2003).

In this study, we aimed to investigate the time course of the processing of affective words by using event-related potentials (ERPs). The ERP technique is a suitable tool for studying the interaction between emotion and attention, since it is sensitive to both emotional (e.g., Chapman, McCrary, Chapman, & Martin, 1980) and attentional manipulations (e.g., Kissler, Herbert, Winkler, & Junghöfer, 2009), and it provides information about the time course and extent of cerebral processing beyond behavioral data.

For visual stimuli like faces and pictures, ERP differences between emotional and neutral information usually appear from the first 100 ms after stimulus onset (Eimer & Holmes, 2002; Frühholz, Jellinghaus, & Herrmann, 2011). However, these early effects are not so evident for words. Although the traditional view suggests that the emotional content of words is extracted at around 400 ms (Kutas & Federmeier, 2000; Posner, Abdullaev, McCandliss, & Sereno, 1999), several studies have reported larger amplitudes to emotional than to neutral words in ERP components at around 100 ms, even when participants do not explicitly attend to the affective content of the stimuli (Bernat, Bunce, & Shevrin, 2001; Ortigue et al., 2004; Sass et al., 2010; Skrandies, 1998). ERP effects have been more consistently reported in components such as the early posterior negativity (EPN), a negative wave generated over the extra-striate cortex peaking at around 250 ms after stimulus onset, and the late positive complex (LPC), a positivity belonging to the P300 family; both components usually show larger amplitudes for emotional than for neutral words (Carretié et al. …

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