Expectation Gates Neural Facilitation of Emotional Words in Early Visual Areas

Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Aug 23;13:281. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00281. eCollection 2019.


The current study examined whether emotional expectations gate attention to emotional words in early visual cortex. Color cues informed about word valence and onset latency. We observed a stimulus-preceding negativity prior to the onset of cued words that was larger for negative than for neutral words. This indicates that in anticipation of emotional words more attention was allocated to them than to neutral words before target onset. During stimulus presentation the steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP), elicited by flickering words, was attenuated for cued compared to uncued words, indicating sharpened sensory activity, i.e., expectation suppression. Most importantly, the SSVEP was more enhanced for negative than neutral words when these were cued. Uncued conditions did not differ in SSVEP amplitudes, paralleling previous studies reporting lexico-semantic but not early visual effects of emotional words. We suggest that cueing mediates re-entrant engagement of visual resources by providing an early "affective gist" of an upcoming word. Consequently, visual single-word studies may have underestimated attentional effects of emotional words and their anticipation during reading.

Keywords: SPN; SSVEP; anticipation; emotion; expectation; reading; visual attention.