ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (2): 177-187.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00177

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Why “no” implies “negative emotion”? Emotional representation in negation processing

GAO Zhihua1,2,LU Zhongyi1()   

  1. 1 College of Education, Hebei Normal University, Shijiazhuang 050024, China
    2 College of Psychology, North China University of Science and Technology, Tangshan 063210, China
  • Received:2018-02-09 Published:2019-02-25 Online:2018-12-24
  • Contact: Zhongyi LU


Propositional theories propose that negation is an explicit abstract symbol, while the embodied theories believe that negation is represented by perceptual symbols. However, both sides lack direct evidence. In the present study, we develop another approach to discuss the issue -- emotional representation. Emotion is viewed as another form of basic experienced symbols and an important component of internal states to construe the representation of abstract concepts. Thus, can negation be represented by emotion?
In the two experiments, negative and affirmative phrases with a construction of “you/meiyou (a/no) + neutral two-syllable Chinese nominal words (e.g., 有/没有铁轨, a/no rail)” were developed as experimental materials to explore the emotional representation of negation processing. In experiment 1, we used the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP), in which affirmative and negative neutral phrases were adopted as primes presented for 200 ms after a 0 ms or 300 ms blank screen (SOA: 200 ms and 500 ms), and target ambiguous Russian words with 6~7 letters were presented for 100 ms and then were substituted by the masking pictures. The participants were asked to judge the pleasantness of the target Russian words. In experiment 2, we applied the classical affective procedure (Bona Fide Pipeline, BFP), in which the same primes and the same two SOAs in experiment 1 were adopted, but the targets were Chinese affective words from CAWS, and the target word in each trail was diminished until the participants made the judgment on the pleasantness of the target word. The dependent variable in both experiments was the unpleasant response rationale.
The results of experiment 1 demonstrated that negative neutral phrases led to more unpleasant responses to the ambiguous Russian words than affirmative phrases in the 200-ms and 500-ms SOA conditions. In experiment 2, negation phrases promoted participants’ responses to negative target words and misled responses to positive words more than affirmative phrases. In other words, negation primed more unpleasant responses regardless of the valence of the target words in both SOA conditions. Lastly, we compared the results of experiment 1 and experiment 2 and discovered that in both measure methods, negative neutral phrases induced more unpleasant responses than affirmative ones, which implied that negation had negative valence and was represented by negative emotion.
The results from the two experiments showed that negation was represented by emotional symbols. Because the prime materials adopted in the two experiments were neutral in valence, the different unpleasant response rationales reflected the different valence of the polarity (negation and affirmation), which differed from the explanation of the processing difficulties theories of negation. The stability of this negative bias across two durations meant that the emotional features of negation were not a temporal response but a property of negation. The negative priming effects of negation in the AMP and BFP, which had different demands on attentional resources, were similar. This implied that the negative valence of negation could be activated automatically with unintentional processing.

Key words: negation, emotion, embodiment, affective misattribution procedure (AMP), Bona Fide Pipeline (BFP)

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