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Mood and language comprehension

Many aspects of cognition, such as memory retrieval, decision-making, and the use of stereotypes, have been found to be sensitive to mood, the diffuse, objectless affective state the person is in. Although the exact mechanisms are hotly debated, the evidence suggests that people in a happy mood are more inclined to rely on heuristic processing strategies, and to be open to new information, than people in a sad mood. Here we use ERPs to investigate (a) whether mood also affects the use of heuristics (or 'educated guesses') to anticipate upcoming language as a sentence unfolds, and (b) to what extent mood affects the balance between dynamically configured 'new' knowledge (discourse model) and more invariant 'old' knowledge (world knowledge in long-term memory). Our findings in (a) reveal that mood states can indeed affects basic language comprehension mechanisms, in a selective way (in our first experiment, heuristic anticipation is affected, but basic parsing is not). Such findings testify to the importance of studying the language-affect interface in psycholinguistics: it is not just that language, once understood, can change one's feelings and emotions -- the latter can selectively alter the mechanisms by which we come to understand language in the first place.

Representative publications (more info and/or fulltexts here):

Van Berkum, J. J. A., De Goede, D., Van Alphen, P. M., Mulder, E., & Kerstholt, J. (2010). Mood affects semantic anticipation, but not syntactic parsing, in real-time reading. Poster presented at the 7th FENS forum of European Neuroscience (FENS-2010), Amsterdam. more >

Contact persons: Jos van Berkum, Vicky Lai

Last checked 2010-12-06 by Jos van Berkum

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