Interdependence modulates the brain response to word–voice incongruity

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Social orientation (interdependence as opposed to independence) has been suggested as a major cultural dimension. In the present work, we used a specific stimulus-locked component of electroencephalogram and found, for the first time, that the perceiver’s social orientation modulates the brain response to incongruity of word meaning to attendant vocal tone. Participants judged the verbal meaning of emotionally spoken emotional words while ignoring the vocal tone. As predicted, there was a greater negative event-related potential between 450 and 900 ms after the stimulus onset when the verbal content was incongruous with the background vocal tone, relative to when the two were congruous. Of importance, this incongruity-based late negativity was larger when participants were unobtrusively exposed to schematic human faces while listening to the stimulus words and for females than for males. Moreover, this late negativity was reliably predicted by chronic social orientation for females, but not for males and in the face condition, but not in the no-face control condition. Implications for future work on culture are discussed.

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