Brain processing of task-relevant and task-irrelevant emotional words: An ERP study
Although there is evidence for preferential perceptual processing of written emotional information, the effects of attentional manipulations and the time course of affective processing require further clarification. In this study, we attempted to investigate how the emotional content of words modulates cerebral functioning (event-related potentials, ERPs) and behavior (reaction times, RTs) when the content is task-irrelevant (emotional Stroop Task, EST) or task-relevant (emotional categorization task, ECT), in a sample of healthy middle-aged women. In the EST, the RTs were longer for emotional words than for neutral words, and in the ECT, they were longer for neutral and negative words than for positive words. A principal components analysis of the ERPs identified various temporospatial factors that were differentially modified by emotional content. P2 was the first emotion-sensitive component, with enhanced factor scores for negative nouns across tasks. The N2 and late positive complex had enhanced factor scores for emotional relative to neutral information only in the ECT. The results reinforce the idea that written emotional information has a preferential processing route, both when it is task-irrelevant (producing behavioral interference) and when it is task-relevant (facilitating the categorization). After early automatic processing of the emotional content, late ERPs become more emotionally modulated as the level of attention to the valence increases.