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      Emotional valence and arousal affect reading in an interactive way: Neuroimaging evidence for an approach-withdrawal framework


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          A growing body of literature shows that the emotional content of verbal material affects reading, wherein emotional words are given processing priority compared to neutral words. Human emotions can be conceptualised within a two-dimensional model comprised of emotional valence and arousal (intensity). These variables are at least in part distinct, but recent studies report interactive effects during implicit emotion processing and relate these to stimulus-evoked approach-withdrawal tendencies.

          The aim of the present study was to explore how valence and arousal interact at the neural level, during implicit emotion word processing. The emotional attributes of written word stimuli were orthogonally manipulated based on behavioural ratings from a corpus of emotion words. Stimuli were presented during an fMRI experiment while 16 participants performed a lexical decision task, which did not require explicit evaluation of a word′s emotional content.

          Results showed greater neural activation within right insular cortex in response to stimuli evoking conflicting approach-withdrawal tendencies (i.e., positive high-arousal and negative low-arousal words) compared to stimuli evoking congruent approach vs. withdrawal tendencies (i.e., positive low-arousal and negative high-arousal words). Further, a significant cluster of activation in the left extra-striate cortex was found in response to emotional than neutral words, suggesting enhanced perceptual processing of emotionally salient stimuli.

          These findings support an interactive two-dimensional approach to the study of emotion word recognition and suggest that the integration of valence and arousal dimensions recruits a brain region associated with interoception, emotional awareness and sympathetic functions.


          • Emotional valence and arousal affect reading interactively.

          • Positive high-arousal and negative low-arousal words evoke conflicting reactions.

          • Enhanced right insula activation was found in response to conflicting stimuli.

          • Insula integrates viscero-sensory and cognitive/evaluative information.

          • Enhanced extra-striate cortex activation was found for emotional than neutral words.

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          Most cited references 54

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          Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions.

          In a series of [15O]PET experiments aimed at investigating the neural basis of emotion and feeling, 41 normal subjects recalled and re-experienced personal life episodes marked by sadness, happiness, anger or fear. We tested the hypothesis that the process of feeling emotions requires the participation of brain regions, such as the somatosensory cortices and the upper brainstem nuclei, that are involved in the mapping and/or regulation of internal organism states. Such areas were indeed engaged, underscoring the close relationship between emotion and homeostasis. The findings also lend support to the idea that the subjective process of feeling emotions is partly grounded in dynamic neural maps, which represent several aspects of the organism's continuously changing internal state.
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            Core affect and the psychological construction of emotion.

            At the heart of emotion, mood, and any other emotionally charged event are states experienced as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. These states--called core affect--influence reflexes, perception, cognition, and behavior and are influenced by many causes internal and external, but people have no direct access to these causal connections. Core affect can therefore be experienced as free-floating (mood) or can be attributed to some cause (and thereby begin an emotional episode). These basic processes spawn a broad framework that includes perception of the core-affect-altering properties of stimuli, motives, empathy, emotional meta-experience, and affect versus emotion regulation; it accounts for prototypical emotional episodes, such as fear and anger, as core affect attributed to something plus various nonemotional processes.
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              Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: the negativity bias in evaluative categorizations.

              Negative information tends to influence evaluations more strongly than comparably extreme positive information. To test whether this negativity bias operates at the evaluative categorization stage, the authors recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs), which are more sensitive to the evaluative categorization than the response output stage, as participants viewed positive, negative, and neutral pictures. Results revealed larger amplitude late positive brain potentials during the evaluative categorization of (a) positive and negative stimuli as compared with neutral stimuli and (b) negative as compared with positive stimuli, even though both were equally probable, evaluatively extreme, and arousing. These results provide support for the hypothesis that the negativity bias in affective processing occurs as early as the initial categorization into valence classes.

                Author and article information

                Pergamon Press
                1 April 2014
                April 2014
                : 56
                : 100
                : 79-89
                [a ]Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion”, Freie Universität Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, D-14195 Berlin, Germany
                [b ]Centre for Advanced Imaging, The University of Queensland, Australia
                [c ]Psychiatry, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Universities of Brighton and Sussex, UK
                [d ]Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Brighton, UK
                [e ]Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, UK
                [f ]Laboratory for Communication Science, The University of Hong Kong, China
                [g ]Center for Cognitive Science, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. Tel.:+49 30 838 57869. fmm.citron@ 123456gmail.com
                © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).



                valence, arousal, approach, withdrawal, emotional words, fmri


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