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ERP evidence on the interaction between information structure and emotional salience of words

Wang, L., Bastiaansen, M. C. M., Yang, Y., & Hagoort, P. (2013). ERP evidence on the interaction between information structure and emotional salience of words. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 13, 297-310. doi:10.3758/s13415-012-0146-2.
Both emotional words and words focused by information structure can capture attention. This study examined the interplay between emotional salience and information structure in modulating attentional resources in the service of integrating emotional words into sentence context. Event-related potentials (ERPs) to affectively negative, neutral, and positive words, which were either focused or nonfocused in question–answer pairs, were evaluated during sentence comprehension. The results revealed an early negative effect (90–200 ms), a P2 effect, as well as an effect in the N400 time window, for both emotional salience and information structure. Moreover, an interaction between emotional salience and information structure occurred within the N400 time window over right posterior electrodes, showing that information structure influences the semantic integration only for neutral words, but not for emotional words. This might reflect the fact that the linguistic salience of emotional words can override the effect of information structure on the integration of words into context. The interaction provides evidence for attention–emotion interactions at a later stage of processing. In addition, the absence of interaction in the early time window suggests that the processing of emotional information is highly automatic and independent of context. The results suggest independent attention capture systems of emotional salience and information structure at the early stage but an interaction between them at a later stage, during the semantic integration of words.
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