ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (12): 1871-1879.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01871

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Power Shifts Attention on A Vertical Dimension: An ERP Study

WU Xiangci; WANG Enguo   

  1. (Institute of Behavioral Psychology, Henan University, Kaifeng 475004, China)
  • Received:2014-04-03 Published:2014-12-25 Online:2014-12-25
  • Contact: WANG Enguo, E-mail:


The embodied theory of conceptual representation hold that conceptual representation is grounded in the same neural systems and the way of conceptual processing is simulating and restoring of body experience. Power, as a kind of abstract concept, also has the physical basis of sex, and metaphor is a link bridge between the abstract concept of power and the body perception experience. Human can use these “up”and“down” spatial concept to describe the power concept in our daily 1ife.Previous studies verify the existence of the metaphor between vertical space and power mostly from the perspective of linguistics and a large corpus. However, little empirical research is concerned from the perspective of cognitive psychology. This study extended the domestic and foreign related studies by showing that the perception of power words could affect the processing of subsequent spatial stimuli at multiple stages.Based on previous studies, we hypothesized that if the perception of power words automatically induced shifts of attention, we expected that early ERP components (P1 and/or N1) would be enhanced when the target letter were presented at a location congruent with that implied by power words. On the contrary, we would expect to observe a larger P3 amplitudes for incongruent than for congruent trials at later cognitive processing stages. The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) to explore that thinking about the abstract concept power may automatically activate the spatial up–down image schema (powerful - up; powerless - down) and consequently direct spatial attention to the image schema congruent location. 16 participants took part in the study. One participant, probably for misunderstanding about the assigned keys, was excluded from the experiment. In the experiment, each trial started with a fixation (a ‘+’ sign) of 500 ms followed by a centrally presented word reflecting a powerful or powerless person. The word remained on the screen until the participant decided whether the word reflected a powerful or powerless person. Participants were instructed to respond as quickly and accurately as possible by pressing one of two keys labeled “D” or “F” on the keyboard as soon as the words disappeared from the screen. After a delay of 450 ms, participants were asked to identify a target letter (“m” or “n”) at the top or bottom of the screen by pressing one of two keys labeled “J” or “K” on the keyboard. The presentation of the letters “m”or”n”and the top vs. bottom location were equally distributed across trials. Thus, each word was followed once by a letter at the top position and once by a letter at the bottom position. The response mappings for the “D”、“F ”and“ J”、“K” keys were counterbalanced across participants. The electrophysiological date and behavior date will be recorded. The reaction times and error scores for the power condition on the target task were submitted to a two (Power: powerful vs. powerless) × two (Position: top vs. bottom) repeated measures ANOVA. No main effects of Power and Position or an interaction effect (all p > 0.05) were found. The analysis of the error scores also revealed no main effects of Power and Position or an interaction effect (all p > 0.05) were found. The ERP analysis showed larger N1 amplitudes for congruent trials and larger P3 amplitudes for incongruent trials. In conclusion, the present findings provide further electrophysiological evidences that the perception of words identifying top or bottom objects can automatically activate the spatial representations implied by the power words and orient spatial attention to subsequent spatial stimulus. Moreover, our results suggest that not only early sensory processes but also later cognitive processes are modulated by power words with spatial associations, represented by larger N1 amplitudes for validly cued targets and larger P3 amplitudes for invalidly cued targets that violate the spatial expectancies. Spatial location relationship of power evaluation for revealing the neural mechanism research of power consciousness and ranking of thought is of great significance.

Key words: visual spatial attention, concept representation, abstract concepts, embodied cognition