Journal Article

Self-reference modulates the processing of emotional stimuli in the absence of explicit self-referential appraisal instructions

Cornelia Herbert, Paul Pauli and Beate M. Herbert

in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Volume 6, issue 5, pages 653-661
Published in print October 2011 | ISSN: 1749-5016
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1749-5024 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsq082
Self-reference modulates the processing of emotional stimuli in the absence of explicit self-referential appraisal instructions

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Self-referential evaluation of emotional stimuli has been shown to modify the way emotional stimuli are processed. This study aimed at a new approach by investigating whether self-reference alters emotion processing in the absence of explicit self-referential appraisal instructions. Event-related potentials were measured while subjects spontaneously viewed a series of emotional and neutral nouns. Nouns were preceded either by personal pronouns (‘my’) indicating self-reference or a definite article (‘the’) without self-reference. The early posterior negativity, a brain potential reflecting rapid attention capture by emotional stimuli was enhanced for unpleasant and pleasant nouns relative to neutral nouns irrespective of whether nouns were preceded by personal pronouns or articles. Later brain potentials such as the late positive potential were enhanced for unpleasant nouns only when preceded by personal pronouns. Unpleasant nouns were better remembered than pleasant or neutral nouns when paired with a personal pronoun. Correlation analysis showed that this bias in favor of self-related unpleasant concepts can be explained by participants’ depression scores. Our results demonstrate that self-reference acts as a first processing filter for emotional material to receive higher order processing after an initial rapid attention capture by emotional content has been completed. Mood-congruent processing may contribute to this effect.

Keywords: emotion; self; ERPs; negativity bias; appraisal theory

Journal Article.  5158 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience

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