As much as with any symbolic system, written and spoken language can provide a powerful emotional experience. This project will study attentional and emotional aspects of the response to visually presented words. The level of analysis will range from words in isolation (Exps. 1A,B), and in the context of meaningful sentences (Exps. 2A,B), through connected discourse (Exps. 3A,B). Critical aspects of the proposed project are: (1) In conjunction with the Media Core of the Center, we will develop textual materials that will parallel the pictorial set already standardized, in that at each of the three levels described, stimuli will vary systematically in emotionality along the two dimensions of affect and arousal. (2) We will us a cortical measure of emotional responsiveness, that of event-related brain potentials (ERPs), to complement the autonomic measures used by other Center members in previous and proposed work. (3) Also complementing other Center projects, we will examine the real-time effects on attention of emotional text by using a non-startle auditory probe presented at various times after the onset of target words. Prior work by the investigators had shown this probe to be a sensitive measure of the moment-to-moment shifts in attention during reading. An initial focus of the research proposed here will look at words that are emotionally incongruous in their sentence contexts; e.g., an unpleasant word in a """"""""pleasant"""""""" context. Prior work with such incongruous endings of stimuli has shown dramatically different effects on the ERP to semantically incongruous words in sentence contexts, syntactic incongruities, and nonverbal """"""""musical"""""""" incongruities. Here, for the first time, we propose to look for distinctive cortical reactions and shifts of attention to words which differ in emotional congruity as a function of context. A second series of studies will investigate effects of distraction of attention on the priming obtained from task- irrelevant associations. Work in this area has also tended to focus on emotionally neutral stimuli, and will be extended here to investigate priming as a function of a differences in affective valence and arousal. Also proposed for years 3-5 are (4) an exploration of other cortical measures (functional MRIs), and effects of individual differences. Taken together, the studies proposed here extend research predominantly conducted with affectively neutral stimuli into the domain of emotion, which should facilitate research efforts in both areas.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Specialized Center (P50)
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University of Florida
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