Annekathrin Schacht and Werner Sommer

Time course and task dependence of emotion effects in word processing.

Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience

The emotional content of stimuli influences cognitive performance. In two experiments, we investigated the time course and mechanisms of emotional influences on visual word processing in various tasks by recording event-related brain potentials (ERPs). The stimuli were verbs of positive, negative, and neutral valence. In Experiment 1, where lexical decisions had to be performed on single verbs, both positive and negative verbs were processed more quickly than neutral verbs and elicited a distinct ERP component, starting around 370 msec. In Experiment 2, the verbs were embedded in a semantic context provided by single nouns. Likewise, structural, lexical, and semantic decisions for positive verbs were accelerated, and an ERP effect with a scalp distribution comparable to that in Experiment 1 now started about 200 msec earlier. These effects may signal an automatic allocation of attentional resources to emotionally arousing words, since they were not modulated by different task demands.