Nav: Home

How words get an emotional meaning

January 09, 2019

Many objects and people in everyday life have an emotional meaning. A pair of wool socks, for example, has an emotional value if it was the last thing the grandmother knitted before her death. The same applies to words. The name of a stranger has no emotional value at first, but if a loving relationship develops, the same name suddenly has a positive connotation. Researchers at the University of Göttingen have investigated how the brain processes such stimuli, which can be positive or negative. The results were published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

The scientists from the Georg Elias Müller Institute for Psychology at the University of Göttingen analysed how people associate neutral signs, words and faces with emotional meaning. Within just a few hours, participants learn these connections through a process of systematic rewards and losses. For example, if they always receive money when they see a certain neutral word, this word acquires a positive association. However, if they lose money whenever they see a certain word, this leads to a negative association. The studies show that people learn positive associations much faster than neutral or negative associations: something positive very quickly becomes associated with a word or indeed with the face of a person (as their recent research in Neuroimage has shown).

Using electroencephalography (EEG), the researchers also investigated how the brain processes the various stimuli. The brain usually determines whether an image or word is positive or negative after about 200 to 300 milliseconds. "Words associated with loss cause specific neuronal reactions in the visual cortex after just 100 milliseconds," says Dr Louisa Kulke, first author of the study. "So the brain distinguishes in a flash what a newly learned meaning the word has for us, especially if that meaning is negative."

It also seems to make a difference whether the word is already known to the subject (like "chair" or "tree") or whether it is a fictitious word that does not exist in the language (like "napo" or "foti"). Thus, the existing semantic meaning of a word seems to play a role in the emotions that we associate with that word.
-end-
Original Publications: Kulke et al. Differential effects of learned associations with words and pseudowords on event-related brain potentials. Neuropsychologia (2018). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.12.012

Hammerschmidt, W.et al.. Implicit reward associations impact face processing: Time-resolved evidence from event-related brain potentials and pupil dilations. NeuroImage (2018). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.06.055

Contact:
Dr Louisa Kulke
University of Göttingen
Georg Elias Müller Institute for Psychology
Affective Neuroscience and Psychophysiology
Goßlerstraße 14, 37073 Göttingen
Telephone: +49 (0) 551 3920624
Email: lkulke@uni-goettingen.de

https://www.psych.uni-goettingen.de/en/anap/team/kulke-louisa?set_language=en

University of Göttingen

Related Brain Articles:

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.
Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.
Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
Landmark study reveals no benefit to costly and risky brain cooling after brain injury
A landmark study, led by Monash University researchers, has definitively found that the practice of cooling the body and brain in patients who have recently received a severe traumatic brain injury, has no impact on the patient's long-term outcome.
Brain cells called astrocytes have unexpected role in brain 'plasticity'
Researchers from the Salk Institute have shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known.
Largest brain study of 62,454 scans identifies drivers of brain aging
In the largest known brain imaging study, scientists from Amen Clinics (Costa Mesa, CA), Google, John's Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco evaluated 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months old to 105 years of age to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.