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Date Submitted

Spring 5-6-2012

Research Mentor and Department

David Balota




The present thesis aims to examine the ways in which emotion and mood state interact during linguistic processing, specifically, to tease apart some of the corresponding cognitive and neural processes. The research explores differences in the semantic processing of highly emotional stimuli when participants are in either positive or negative moods. Both emotional and sentence-level semantic contexts are known to affect the ease with which individuals are able to process language (Federmeier, Kirson, Moreno, & Kutas, 2001, Neuroscience Letters; Herbert, Junghöfer, & Kissler, 2008, Neuropsychologia), but when considered together it is unknown which context will dominate: the congruency of the participant’s mood state with the valence of the sentence-final word or the congruency of the sentence’s local context with the sentence-final word. Before sentence presentation, participants were presented with either positively or negatively valenced International Affective Picture System images to induce global mood state (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 2008, Technical Report A-8). Participants were then presented with emotional sentences, which were either positively or negatively valenced and ended with either semantically congruent or incongruent final words. Sentences were tested in an ERP paradigm focusing on the N400 component, and later in a speeded naming time task. Plausibility ratings for each sentence were collected to characterize the stimuli. Main effects of emotional congruence and sentence-level semantic congruence were found. However, overall, sentence context effects were much stronger than emotional context effects. Positive mood participants showed an effect of sentential congruency only for the mood incongruent items. Discussion focuses on the combined influence of global mood and local sentence context.

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