Evaluative priming in a semantic flanker task: ERP evidence for a mutual facilitation explanation
In semantic flanker tasks, target categorization response times are affected by the semantic compatibility of the flanker and target. With positive and negative category exemplars, we investigated the influence of evaluative congruency (whether flanker and target share evaluative valence) on the flanker effect, using behavioral and electrophysiological measures. We hypothesized a moderation of the flanker effect by evaluative congruency on the basis of the assumption that evaluatively congruent concepts mutually facilitate each other’s activation (see Schmitz & Wentura in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 38:984–1000, 2012). Applying an onset delay of 50 ms for the flanker, we aimed to decrease the facilitative effect of an evaluatively congruent flanker on target encoding and, at the same time, increase the facilitative effect of an evaluatively congruent target on flanker encoding. As a consequence of increased flanker activation in the case of evaluative congruency, we expected a semantically incompatible flanker to interfere with the target categorization to a larger extent (as compared with an evaluatively incongruent pairing). Confirming our hypotheses, the flanker effect significantly depended on evaluative congruency, in both mean response times and N2 mean amplitudes. Thus, the present study provided behavioral and electrophysiological evidence for the mutual facilitation of evaluatively congruent concepts. Implications for the representation of evaluative connotations of semantic concepts are discussed.