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Prog Brain Res. 2006;156:147-83.

Emotional and semantic networks in visual word processing: insights from ERP studies.

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Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, P. O. Box D25, D-78457 Konstanz, Germany.


The event-related brain potential (ERP) literature concerning the impact of emotional content on visual word processing is reviewed and related to general knowledge on semantics in word processing: emotional connotation can enhance cortical responses at all stages of visual word processing following the assembly of visual word form (up to 200 ms), such as semantic access (around 200 ms), allocation of attentional resources (around 300 ms), contextual analysis (around 400 ms), and sustained processing and memory encoding (around 500 ms). Even earlier effects have occasionally been reported with subliminal or perceptual threshold presentation, particularly in clinical populations. Here, the underlying mechanisms are likely to diverge from the ones operational in standard natural reading. The variability in timing of the effects can be accounted for by dynamically changing lexical representations that can be activated as required by the subjects' motivational state, the task at hand, and additional contextual factors. Throughout, subcortical structures such as the amygdala are likely to contribute these enhancements. Further research will establish whether or when emotional arousal, valence, or additional emotional properties drive the observed effects and how experimental factors interact with these. Meticulous control of other word properties known to affect ERPs in visual word processing, such as word class, length, frequency, and concreteness and the use of more standardized EEG procedures is vital. Mapping the interplay between cortical and subcortical mechanisms that give rise to amplified cortical responses to emotional words will be of highest priority for future research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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