Reward expectation regulates brain responses to task-relevant and task-irrelevant emotional words: ERP evidence

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Abstract

We investigated the effect of reward expectation on the processing of emotional words in two experiments using event-related potentials (ERPs). A cue indicating the reward condition of each trial (incentive vs non-incentive) was followed by the presentation of a negative or neutral word, the target. Participants were asked to discriminate the emotional content of the target word in Experiment 1 and to discriminate the color of the target word in Experiment 2, rendering the emotionality of the target word task-relevant in Experiment 1, but task-irrelevant in Experiment 2. The negative bias effect, in terms of the amplitude difference between ERPs for negative and neutral targets, was modulated by the task-set. In Experiment 1, P31 and early posterior negativity revealed a larger negative bias effect in the incentive condition than that in the non-incentive condition. However, in Experiment 2, P31 revealed a diminished negative bias effect in the incentive condition compared with that in the non-incentive condition. These results indicate that reward expectation improves top-down attentional concentration to task-relevant information, with enhanced sensitivity to the emotional content of target words when emotionality is task-relevant, but with reduced differential brain responses to emotional words when their content is task-irrelevant.

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