ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (8): 946-957.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00946

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The time course of self-relevance affecting emotional word processing

ZHANG Qi1, DENG Nali1, JIANG Xiumin2, LI Weijun1()   

  1. 1 Research Center of Brain and Cognitive Neuroscience, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116029, China
    2 School of Physical Education, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116029, China
  • Received:2019-07-31 Published:2020-08-25 Online:2020-06-28
  • Contact: LI Weijun
  • Supported by:
    Natural Science Foundation of Liaoning Province(20180550313);the MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Project of Humanities and Social Sciences(17YJC190013);Natural Science Foundation of Liaoning Provincial Department of Education(LJ2019016)


In successful social interactions, distinguishing between our own and another person’s emotions is important. Both self-relevant information (such as one’s own name) and emotional stimuli with highly social or adaptive significance can automatically capture attention, leading to prioritized and deep processing. Previous studies have confirmed that self-relevance can affect the processing of emotional words. In the current study, we used names as self-relevant clues to explore the dynamic temporal characteristics of self-relevant information affecting emotional information and its integration mechanism.
In this study, we used ERP technology and created a 3 (Name type: self, friend, unfamiliar) × 3 (Emotion type: positive, neutral, negative) within-participants design. A total of 21 college students (9 males, Mage = 20.4) participated in the experiment. Prior to the experiment, we gathered the participants’ own names and their best friends’ names, and selected a name which did not belong to a person familiar to any of the participants. All names included three characters. The experimental stimuli were 171 two-character words taken from the Chinese Affective Word System, which included 57 positive, 57 negative and 57 neutral words. All participants were asked to silently read the paired names (own name, friend-name and unfamiliar name) and emotional words (positive, neutral and negative) presented in succession, unaware that the presented words were emotional words, while their EEG was recorded.
The ERP results are shown as follows. (1) The main effect of the emotional words was significant in the early processing stage where negative words elicited larger EPN amplitudes (200-300 ms) than positive and neutral words. (2) In the late processing stage, the emotional words were further processed. The negative words elicited reduced N400 amplitudes (300-450 ms) compared to neutral words, and showed enhanced LPP amplitudes (450-650 ms) compared with neutral and positive words. (3) More importantly, a significant interaction between names and emotional words was found in the LPP time window. The negative words paired with own names elicited significantly larger LPP than neutral words paired with own names, while negative words paired with friend names elicited significantly larger LPP than positive words or neutral words paired with friend names. Nevertheless, no significant difference was found among LPP amplitudes elicited by the three kinds of emotional words paired with unfamiliar names.
Overall, our study demonstrates that there is a processing advantage for negative words in different stages, and self-relevance of a name can affect the cognitive processing of emotional words, which mainly occurs in the late stage of emotional lexical processing. Importantly, it seems that individuals first filter information according to whether it is self-relevant and then process the emotional content (especially negative stimuli) related to themselves or their friends more deeply and elaborately. The negative bias can be explained by the fact that negative stimuli are considered to carry greater informational value than positive stimuli. Therefore, negative stimuli automatically capture more attention and cognitive resources than neutral and positive stimuli, resulting in higher-order coding.

Key words: emotional words, self-relevance, EPN, LPP