Vicky Lai, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
University of Arizona
The role of emotional contexts in the cognitive/neural representations of words
Abstract: Traditionally, word meaning representations are treated as entries in a mental lexicon, hence relatively static. In this talk, I will report several brainwave (ERP or Event Related Potential) studies that show that the cognitive-neural representations of words are fluid and flexible in emotional contexts. In one study, we manipulated the speaker context, by putting the language users in a positive or a negative mood before they read. In another study, we inserted positive and negative facial emojis before words, to investigate the effect of emojis on subsequent words. In study 3, we used swear words as contexts, and examined the processing of the nouns after the swears. In study 4, we created sentential contexts that were loaded with emotion, and investigated whether the subsequent word representations vary in emotional contexts. Across all of the studies, significant changes were found, but the timings of the changes are earlier in word and sentential contexts than in speaker context.