Electrophysiological correlates of the interplay between low-level visual features and emotional content during word reading

Abstract

Processing affectively charged visual stimuli typically results in increased amplitude of specific event-related potential (ERP) components. Low-level features similarly modulate electrophysiological responses, with amplitude changes proportional to variations in stimulus size and contrast. However, it remains unclear whether emotion-related amplifications during visual word processing are necessarily intertwined with changes in specific low-level features or, instead, may act independently. In this pre-registered electrophysiological study, we varied font size and contrast of neutral and negative words while participants were monitoring their semantic content. We examined ERP responses associated with early sensory and attentional processes as well as later stages of stimulus processing. Results showed amplitude modulations by low-level visual features early on following stimulus onset – i.e., P1 and N1 components –, while the LPP was independently modulated by these visual features. Independent effects of size and emotion were observed only at the level of the EPN. Here, larger EPN amplitudes for negative were observed only for small high contrast and large low contrast words. These results suggest that early increase in sensory processing at the EPN level for negative words is not automatic, but bound to specific combinations of low-level features, occurring presumably via attentional control processes.

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Scientific Reports
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