ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (10): 1120-1130.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01120

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The processing advantage of self-positive expression: Evidence from an ERPs study

Qun TAN1,Yueyang YIN1,2,Shen LIU1,3(),Shangfeng HAN1,Qiang XU1,Lin ZHANG1()   

  1. 1 Department and Institute of Psychology, Ningbo University, Ningbo 315211, China
    2 School of Philosophy and Sociology, Jilin University, Changchun 130000, China
    3 School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230022, China
  • Received:2017-09-26 Published:2018-10-25 Online:2018-08-23


It is well established in a number of studies that there is a cognitive advantage for self-related information, which is called “self-reference effect”. Some researchers have found that the processing of self-related information and the processing of emotional valence information are not only independent, but also interactive. However, these previous studies lacked the investigation of how individuals processed self-related information with different emotional valence. It is difficult to reveal the interaction between self-attribute and emotional valence of stimuli. Moreover, the influence of emotional valence of self-related information on “self-processing advantage” and the cognitive processing of self-expression performs are unclear. So, we used self-expression as stimulus to investigate the processing of self-related information with different emotional valence, and to explore the interaction between self and emotion in the self-face perception process.

In the present study, we adopted the visual search paradigm and the event related potential technology to investigate the processing of self-expression. We designed a 2 (emotion type: happy VS angry) ×2 (identity type: self VS other) within groups design. A total of 25 college students (11 males, 14 females) participated in the experiment, and 6 of the participants were eliminated because of too much artifacts in EEG. We gathered the happy and angry faces of each participant in advance, and selected other people's emotional faces from the Chinese Facial Affective Picture System. All photos were processed in a unified manner, and only the main features of the face were retained. In the visual search task, participants were asked to search the target expression and to ignore other faces in the 6 faces (1 target expression face with 5 neutral faces or 6 neutral faces). When they see the target expression, they should press the "F" as soon as possible; and if all are neutral faces, then press the "J". We record their reaction and corresponding EEG signals.

Behavioral results showed that, (1) the search of self-expression is significantly faster and better than the others, and it is not influenced by the emotional valence; (2) the search of self-happy expression is significantly faster and better than the self-angry expression, that is, the processing advantage of self-positive expression exist. And the results of ERP showed that the N1, N2 and LPP amplitudes of self-happy expressions were greater than those of self-anger and other people’s expressions. The results reflected that the processing advantage of self-positive expression began in visual coding phase of N1 composition, and there is also displayed in expression decoding stage and behavioral decision stage. It showed that the early attention to self-positive expression is faster, and the middle and later period get more attention resources.

Overall, these results consistently showed that, there was a processing advantage effect of self-positive expression. According to implicit positive association theory, the self-expression with different emotional valences might have different meanings to individuals. To be detailed, the self-positive expression was related to positive attribute in self-concept, and it could promote individual cognitive processing of such stimuli. The self-negative expression was related to negative property of self-concept and it might weaken the advantages of self-processing, thereby causing individuals to slow down the processing of such stimuli.

Key words: self-expression, other-expression, visual search paradigm, implicit positive association theory, self-positivity bias

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