Conflict processing is modulated by positive emotion: ERP data from a flanker task

Behav Brain Res. 2011 Jun 1;219(2):382-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.01.043. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


Recent evidence shows that negative emotional stimuli speed up the resolution of conflict between opposing response tendencies. This mechanism ensures rapid reactions in potentially threatening situations. However, it is unclear whether positive emotion has a similar effect on conflict processing. We therefore presented positive emotional words in a version of the flanker conflict task, in which conflict is elicited by incongruent target and flanker stimuli. Response times to incongruent stimuli were shortened in positive words, indicating a speeding up of conflict resolution. We also observed an enlargement of the first conflict-sensitive event-related potential (ERP) of the electroencephalogram, the N200, in positive emotional trials. The data suggest that positive emotion already modulates first stages of conflict processing. The results demonstrate that positive, reward-predicting stimuli influence conflict processing in a similar manner to threat signals. Positive emotion thus reduces the time that an organism is unable to respond due to simultaneously present conflicting action tendencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Young Adult