The Influence of Emotional Associations on the Neural Correlates of Semantic Priming

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Emotions influence our everyday life in several ways. With the present study, we wanted to examine the impact of emotional information on neural correlates of semantic priming, a well-established technique to investigate semantic processing. Stimuli were presented with a short SOA of 200 ms as subjects performed a lexical decision task during fMRI measurement. Seven experimental conditions were compared: positive/negative/neutral related, positive/negative/neutral unrelated, nonwords (all words were nouns). Behavioral data revealed a valence specific semantic priming effect (i.e., unrelated > related) only for neutral and positive related word pairs. On a neural level, the comparison of emotional over neutral relations showed activation in left anterior medial frontal cortex, superior frontal gyrus, and posterior cingulate. Interactions for the different relations were located in left anterior part of the medial frontal cortex, cingulate regions, and right hippocampus (positive > neutral + negative) and left posterior part of medial frontal cortex (negative > neutral + positive). The results showed that emotional information have an influence on semantic association processes. While positive and neutral information seem to share a semantic network, negative relations might induce compensatory mechanisms that inhibit the spread of activation between related concepts. The neural correlates highlighted a distributed neural network, primarily involving attention, memory and emotion related processing areas in medial fronto-parietal cortices. The differentiation between anterior (positive) and posterior part (negative) of the medial frontal cortex was linked to the type of affective manipulation with more cognitive demands being involved in the automatic processing of negative information. Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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