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Looking at emotional words is not the same as reading emotional words: Behavioral and neural correlates


  • The authors would like to thank the two reviewers for their highly valuable comments on a previous version of this manuscript. This work was supported by grant PSI2009-08607 from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación of Spain.

Address reprint requests to: José A. Hinojosa, Instituto Pluridisciplinar, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Recent research suggests that the allocation of attentional resources to emotional content during word processing might be sensitive to task requirements. This question was investigated in two tasks with similar instructions. The stimuli were positive, negative, and neutral nouns. Participants had to identify meaningful words embedded in a stream of non-recognizable stimuli (task 1) or pseudowords (task 2). Task 1 could be successfully performed on the basis of the perceptual features whereas a lexico-semantic analysis was required in task 2. Effects were found only in task 2. Positive nouns were identified faster, with fewer errors and elicited larger amplitude in an early negativity. Also, the amplitude of a late positivity was larger for both positive and negative nouns than for neutral nouns. It is concluded that some degree of linguistic processing is needed to direct attention to the affective content during word processing.