Emotional words facilitate lexical but not early visual processing

BMC Neurosci. 2015 Dec 12;16:89. doi: 10.1186/s12868-015-0225-8.


Background: Emotional scenes and faces have shown to capture and bind visual resources at early sensory processing stages, i.e. in early visual cortex. However, emotional words have led to mixed results. In the current study ERPs were assessed simultaneously with steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) to measure attention effects on early visual activity in emotional word processing. Neutral and negative words were flickered at 12.14 Hz whilst participants performed a Lexical Decision Task.

Results: Emotional word content did not modulate the 12.14 Hz SSVEP amplitude, neither did word lexicality. However, emotional words affected the ERP. Negative compared to neutral words as well as words compared to pseudowords lead to enhanced deflections in the P2 time range indicative of lexico-semantic access. The N400 was reduced for negative compared to neutral words and enhanced for pseudowords compared to words indicating facilitated semantic processing of emotional words. LPC amplitudes reflected word lexicality and thus the task-relevant response.

Conclusion: In line with previous ERP and imaging evidence, the present results indicate that written emotional words are facilitated in processing only subsequent to visual analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reading*
  • Time
  • Visual Perception / physiology*