Manuel Martín-Loeches, Anabel Fernández, Annekathrin Schacht, Werner Sommer, Pilar Casado, Laura Jiménez-Ortega and Sabela Fondevila

The influence of emotional words on sentence processing: Electrophysiological and behavioral evidence.


Whereas most previous studies on emotion in language have focussed on single words, we investigated the influence of the emotional valence of a word on the syntactic and semantic processes unfolding during sentence comprehension, by means of event-related brain potentials (ERP). Experiment 1 assessed how positive, negative, and neutral adjectives that could be either syntactically correct or incorrect (violation of number agreement) modulate syntax-sensitive ERP components. The amplitude of the left anterior negativity (LAN) to morphosyntactic violations increased in negative and decreased in positive words in comparison to neutral words. In Experiment 2, the same sentences were presented but positive, negative, and neutral adjectives could be either semantically correct or anomalous given the sentence context. The N400 to semantic anomalies was not significantly affected by the valence of the violating word. However, positive words in a sentence seemed to influence semantic correctness decisions, also triggering an apparent N400 reduction irrespective of the correctness value of the word. Later linguistic processes, as reflected in the P600 component, were unaffected in either experiment. Overall, our results indicate that emotional valence in a word impacts the syntactic and semantic processing of sentences, with differential effects as a function of valence and domain.