Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Effects of Negative Content on the Processing of Gender Information: An Event-Related Potential Study

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Effects of Negative Content on the Processing of Gender Information: An Event-Related Potential Study

Article excerpt

Published online: 17 May 2014

(C> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Previous research on emotion in language has mainly concerned the impact of emotional information on several as- pects of lexico-semantic analyses of single words. However, affective influences on morphosyntactic processing are less understood. In the present study, we focused on the impact of negative valence in the processing of gender agreement rela- tions. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while par- ticipants read three-word phrases and performed a syntactic judgment task. Negative and neutral adjectives could agree or disagree in gender with the preceding noun. At an electrophys- iological level, the amplitude of a left anterior negativity (LAN) to gender agreement mismatches decreased in negative words, relative to neutral words. The behavioral data suggested that LAN amplitudes might be indexing the processing costs asso- ciated with the detection of gender agreement errors, since the detection of gender mismatches resulted in faster and more accurate responses than did the detection of correct gender agreement relations. According to this view, it seems that neg- ative content facilitated the processes implicated in the early detection of gender agreement mismatches. However, gender agreement violations in negative words triggered processes involved in the reanalysis and repair of the syntactic stracture, as reflected in larger P600 amplitudes to incorrect than to correct phrases, irrespective of their emotional valence.

Keywords Gender agreement * Emotion * Event-related potentials * LAN * P600

Studies that have investigated the processing of emotional lan- guage with event-related potentials (ERPs) have been mainly concerned with the impact of several lexical and/or semantic word features on word comprehension (Bemat, Bunce, & Shevrin, 2001; Herbert, Jimghofer, & Kissler, 2008; Hinojosa, Carretié, Valcárcel, Méndez-Bértolo, & Pozo, 2009b; Hinojosa, Méndez-Bértolo, & Pozo, 2010; Hofmann, Kuchinke, Tamm, Vö, & Jacobs, 2009; Kanske & Kotz, 2007; Kissler, Herbert, Peyk, & Jimghofer, 2007; Méndez-Bértolo, Pozo, & Hinojosa, 2011; Schacht & Sommer, 2009; Scott, O'Donnell, Leuthold, & Sereno, 2009). An alternative approach has been to explore semantic expectation effects in both neutral (Jiménez-Ortega et al., 2012) and emotional (Delaney-Busch & Kuperberg, 2013; León, Díaz, de Vega, & Hernández, 2010; Moreno & Vázquez, 2011) discourse contexts. At least three different ef- fects have been reported: the early posterior negativity (EPN), the N400, and the late posterior component (LPC), which rep- resent different aspects of semantic and attentional processes (see Citron, 2012, for a review).

A central issue in the domain of language comprehension addresses how the parser establishes agreement relations be- tween sentence constituents by means of several sources of information. Agreement, defined as the "covariation of the inflectional morphology between related words" (Molinaro, Barber, & Carreiras, 2011, p. 908), involves the variation of four main features-that is, number, gender, person, and case (Corbett, 2006; Wechsler, 2009). Notably, few efforts have been dedicated to study how emotional content modulates the processing of those features involved in agreement. The pres- ent study was aimed at contributing to this effort by exploring the impact of negative content on the processing of gender agreement relations.

Gender distinctions are important for many living beings. Therefore, it is not surprising that languages have developed linguistic gender distinctions that parallel biological distinc- tions (Corbett, 2001). Corbett (2001) postulated a difference between languages with a semantic gender system and lan- guages with a formal gender system. In the first category are languages such as English or Chinese, in which gender is encoded in linguistic elements only for referents having bio- logical sex. …

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