Laura Jiménez-Ortega, Manuel Martín-Loeches, Pilar Casado, Alejandra Sel, Sabela Fondevila, Pilar de Tejada, Annekathrin Schacht and Werner Sommer

How the emotional content of discourse affects language comprehension.


Emotion effects on cognition have often been reported. However, only few studies investigated emotional effects on subsequent language processing, and in most cases these effects were induced by non-linguistic stimuli such as films, faces, or pictures. Here, we investigated how a paragraph of positive, negative, or neutral emotional valence affects the processing of a subsequent emotionally neutral sentence, which contained either semantic, syntactic, or no violation, respectively, by means of event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Behavioral data revealed strong effects of emotion; error rates and reaction times increased significantly in sentences preceded by a positive paragraph relative to negative and neutral ones. In ERPs, the N400 to semantic violations was not affected by emotion. In the syntactic experiment, however, clear emotion effects were observed on ERPs. The left anterior negativity (LAN) to syntactic violations, which was not visible in the neutral condition, was present in the negative and positive conditions. This is interpreted as reflecting modulatory effects of prior emotions on syntactic processing, which is discussed in the light of three alternative or complementary explanations based on emotion-induced cognitive styles, working memory, and arousal models. The present effects of emotion on the LAN are especially remarkable considering that syntactic processing has often been regarded as encapsulated and autonomous.