Associating Words With An Emotional Meaning

Reading our partner’s name in a text message can immediately elicit emotions like happiness. In contrast, reading the name of a rival in an email may make us feel angry. This shows that words that do not initially have any emotional meaning (like names) can be associated with a certain valence. If we meet somebody, their name has a neutral association for us. However, if we fall in love with them, the name all of a sudden gains a positive valence.

ADVERTISEMENT

Neuroscientists from Göttingen University are investigating how exactly emotions become associated with words. For this purpose, they present neutral words or so-called “pseudowords” like “foti” or “metu” in a motivational context. These pseudowords do not exist in the real language and therefore have not previously been associated with any meaning to the participants. To associate these words with a context, for example, every time a participant sees the word “foti”, they lose money, while every time they see the word “metu”, they gain money. This way, a word can be associated with a negative or positive meaning.

Using Bayesian modeling techniques, it can be investigated how fast a word is learned, depending on the type of association that participants build with it. The researchers showed that positive associations are learned particularly fast. The connection of a word with a positive context is consistently learned first before connections with negative or neutral contexts are made (Kulke et al., 2019).

However, the brain reacts, particularly to negative associations. Electroencephalography (EEG) makes it possible, to measure neural reactions to words. With this method, scientists can measure with a resolution of a few milliseconds how fast the brain responds to words and whether this response differs between positive and negative words. EEG measures showed that the brain differentiates between negatively associated words, compared to neutral words already as early as 100 ms after we see them (Kulke et al., 2019).

The brain not only reacts to associations with words this quickly, but the same is also true for associations with faces (Hammerschmidt, Sennhenn-Reulen, & Schacht, 2017) or Chinese characters (Schacht et al., 2012). This suggests that our brain builds fast associations with different sorts of objects, telling us quickly whether we know them from a positive, neutral or negative context.

ADVERTISEMENT

In summary, although we can learn positive associations with words very fast, our brain strongly reacts to negative associations in the long run. This enables us to quickly access the emotional context we know a word from.

These findings are described in the article entitled Differential effects of learned associations with words and pseudowords on event-related brain potentials, recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Comments

READ THIS NEXT

Diverse Forests Can Absorb More Carbon Than Single Species Forests, Study Finds

A recent study carried out in Eastern China has found that forests full of diverse species of trees are capable […]

Biochemistry On The Fly: Exploring The Use Of Drones In Sample Pre-Processing

The role of laboratory testing remains a core pillar for disease management where rapid diagnosis and timely and appropriate intervention […]

Labeled Plant Cell With Diagrams

Plant cells contain many organelles such as ribosomes, the nucleus, the plasma membrane, the cell wall, mitochondria, and chloroplasts. In […]

Realization Of Low-Cost Energy Storage And Conversion Technology: A Promising Air Electrode For Zn Air Battery

As a promising post-lithium-ion battery technology, rechargeable Zn air batteries have attracted intense attention due to their high theoretical energy […]

The Physical And Mechanical Properties Of Arctic Sea Ice During Melt Season

The Arctic Ocean is undergoing a series of changes in sea ice, whose concentration and thickness, as well as multiyear […]

Life Cycle Of A Frog: From Tadpole To Frog

The life cycle of a frog, known as metamorphosis, is the transition of a tadpole to an adult frog. The life […]

Goa Beaches Map And Best Beaches List

Take a glance at a map of Goa beaches and you’ll realize just how beautiful the Indian state is. Goa is […]

Science Trends is a popular source of science news and education around the world. We cover everything from solar power cell technology to climate change to cancer research. We help hundreds of thousands of people every month learn about the world we live in and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Want to know more?