Marina Palazova, Werner Sommer and Annekathrin Schacht

Interplay of emotional valence and concreteness in word processing: An event-related potential study with verbs.

Brain and Language

The functional locus of emotional valence in word processing remains an open question. In event-related potentials, emotion has been found to elicit an early posterior negativity (EPN), which is assumed to reflect attention catching by the words’ meaning. Previously, the EPN was modulated by word category with verbs exhibiting longer EPN latencies compared with other word categories. Here we examined whether concreteness, a semantic variable, influences emotion processing. Within a lexical decision task for verbs, emotional valence (positive, negative, and neutral) was orthogonally combined with concreteness (concrete and abstract). EPN onset was found already at 250 ms post-stimulus for concrete verbs, whereas it started 50 ms later for abstract verbs. Concreteness effects occurred after the start of main effects of emotion. Thus, the elicitation of the EPN seems to be based on semantic processes, with emotional valence being accessed before other semantic aspects such as concreteness of verbs.