Emotion words and categories: evidence from lexical decision

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Scott, Graham ; O'Donnell, Patrick ; Sereno, Sara C. (2014)

We examined the categorical nature of emotion word recognition. Positive, negative, and neutral words were presented in lexical decision tasks. Word frequency was additionally manipulated. In Experiment 1, "positive" and "negative" categories of words were implicitly indicated by the blocked design employed. A significant emotion–frequency interaction was obtained, replicating past research. While positive words consistently elicited faster responses than neutral words, only low frequency negative words demonstrated a similar advantage. In Experiments 2a and 2b, explicit categories ("positive," "negative," and "household" items) were specified to participants. Positive words again elicited faster responses than did neutral words. Responses to negative words, however, were no different than those to neutral words, regardless of their frequency. The overall pattern of effects indicates that positive words are always facilitated, frequency plays a greater role in the recognition of negative words, and a "negative" category represents a somewhat disparate set of emotions. These results support the notion that emotion word processing may be moderated by distinct systems.
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