ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (6): 694-705.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00694

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Consistency between self-reference and mother-reference in emotional perception of others' faces: Evidence from ERP

DING Xiao-bing, WANG Rui, KANG Tie-jun(), LIU Jian-yi, ZHOU Jia-ning   

  1. School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • Received:2019-05-14 Published:2020-06-25 Online:2020-04-22
  • Contact: Tie-jun KANG


The self is a unique structure with unique motivations and emotional significance and the processing of self-related information has its own characteristics. These characteristics are reflected not only in the advantage of remembering self-related information, but also in the influence of the emotional perception of other people's faces. However, there has been little research on how the evaluation of one's mother affects the perceptual processing of others' emotions and whether there is consistency between the perceptual processing of others' emotions and the self's maternal reference and self-reference. To address this question, this study combined the evaluation contexts of the self, the mother, and other people's faces in a facial emotion assessment task to investigate whether the neural representations of self-reference and mother-reference are consistent in Chinese people's emotional processing.

The participants were asked to rate the facial emotions of strangers in different valence evaluation contexts (negative, neutral, or positive) and based on different references (self-reference, mother-reference, other-reference, and no-reference). Except for neutral emotions, three reference contexts of positive or negative emotions were expressed through the personality trait words, while no-reference contexts were mainly noun contexts. For example, Lanzhou is the provincial capital of Gansu Province.

At the beginning of the experiment, participants were presented with evaluative or declarative contextual material. We emphasized that the contextual material was the subsequent face statement. The neutral emotional face stimulus was presented after the contextual material. After the face stimulus disappeared, participants were asked to judge the valence and arousal of facial emotion. The changes in neural activity during the processing of facial emotion were recorded. The event-related potential (ERP) components of interest in this study are P1 and N170, which are related to early automatic processing of facial emotion, EPN components related to selective attention processing of facial emotion information, and LPP components reflecting late processing of facial emotion.

The behavioral results showed that the faces in the self-reference and mother-reference contexts were more aroused than those in the other-reference contexts. Moreover, the faces in the negative context were perceived as more negative and the faces in the positive context were perceived as more positive. The ERP results showed that different valence and reference contexts had no significant influence on the early components (P1 and N170) of facial emotion perception, but that they influenced the relatively late components EPN and LPP. Compared with the contexts of un-reference and other-reference, the contexts of self-reference and mother-reference caused larger amplitudes in EPN and LPP. Furthermore, the emotional context (negative or positive) caused larger amplitudes than the neutral context. It is worth noting that there is no significant difference in the results of both behavioral and ERP levels between self-reference and mother-reference conditions.

The results of this study showed that the mothers of Chinese individuals affect their perception and processing of other people's faces. Self-reference and mother-reference were consistent in face emotional processing. This result is highly consistent with previous research, suggesting that mothers shares neural representations with the self. This study is the first to provide ERP evidence of the inclusion of mothers in Chinese self-concept from the perspective of emotional processing.

Key words: self-reference, mother-reference, third-person perspective, facial emotion

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