ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (12): 2696-2707.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02696

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Effects of emotional word types: behavioral and neural evidence for discrimination between emotion-label and emotion-laden words

SHI Hanwen, LI Yutong(), SUI Xue()   

  1. Department of psychology, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116029, China
  • Received:2022-04-22 Online:2022-12-15 Published:2022-09-23
  • Contact: LI Yutong,SUI Xue;


Recently, emotional word type has gathered a growing amount of research and has become a hot topic in the neuroscience of affective language. According to their functions, emotional words can be classified into emotion-label ones and emotion-laden ones. Emotion-label words are direct references to specific emotional states (happy, angry) or processes (worry, angry), and they function as the media either for describing emotions (she is sad) or for expressing emotions (I feel sad). They describe or express specific, single emotional states. Emotionally-laden words do not directly refer to or describe emotional states, however, they can evoke emotional feelings or emotional reactions (e.g., wedding, grave). Such words can be associated with multiple types of emotional meanings. Although both emotion-label words and emotion-loaded words can activate emotions and trigger emotional effects, they do not produce emotional effects in the same way. Although both emotion-label words and emotion-laden words can activate emotions and induce emotional effects, the way they produce emotional effects is not entirely equivalent. Emotion-label words can directly label specific emotions and thus generate emotional effects, while emotion-laden words elicit emotional effects indirectly by connecting related emotion-label words. Our review of the studies on these two types of words observed contradictory ideas about which type is stronger in expressing emotions. Some studies believe that emotion-label words are more powerful in laying emotional effects, while others hold that emotion-laden are stronger. An inconsistency exists among studies of the bilingual perspective. Put it in more detail, while there have been studies detecting advantaged processing of emotion-label words in both languages, some other studies claim that they can only find superior effects of emotion-label words in the dominant language. The results are also different in terms of different tasks. We made a conjecture that these contradictory results are related to three factors: task demands, language types, and lexical features. Two theories help explain the effect of emotional words. Lexical representation acquisition hypothesizes that the differences between emotional word types are due to the different experiential information and emotional experiences that children are exposed to when learning emotion-label words and emotion-laden words. We use this theory to explain the embodied account of semantic representation. The density hypothesis explained concerning lexical properties implies that emotion-label words and emotion-laden words have different storage densities and those dense stimuli will be processed faster than discrete ones. Further research should be conducted in the following four paths. The first one is to examine the cause of the differences between emotion-label words and emotion-laden ones. Secondly, we should examine the processing differences between the two types of emotional words at the sentence and discourse levels. Thirdly, theoretical hypotheses that directly explain the differences in word types are needed. Fourthly, we need a comparison of Chinese and English bilinguals in their procession of Chinese and English emotion-label words and emotion-laden. Finally, we are to investigate the neural mechanisms of processing emotional and semantic information using neuroimaging techniques.

Key words: emotion-label words, emotion-laden words, effects of emotional word types

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