Are Emotions Abstract or Concrete?: An ERP Study on Affect Representations

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The ability to identify and communicate emotions is essential to psychological well-being. Yet research focusing exclusively on emotion concepts has been limited. This study examined nouns that represent emotions (e.g., pleasure, guilt) in comparison to nouns that represent abstract (e.g., wisdom, failure) and concrete entities (e.g., flower, coffin). Twenty-five healthy participants completed a lexical decision task. Event-related potential (ERP) data showed that emotion nouns elicited less pronounced N400 than both abstract and concrete nouns. Further, N400 amplitude differences between emotion and concrete nouns were evident in both hemispheres, whereas the differences between emotion and abstract nouns had a left-lateralized distribution. These findings suggest representational distinctions, possibly in both verbal and imagery systems, between emotion concepts versus other concepts, implications of which for theories of affect representations and for research on affect disorders merit further investigation.

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