Francesca Citron su “Emotional valence and arousal affect written word recognition in an interactive way: Behavioural and neurophysiological evidence”

Giovedì 17 marzo 2016, ore 11.00

Sala Riunioni di Palazzo Venera (Via Santa Maria, 36, II piano)

Francesca Citron (Univ. di Lancaster)

terrà una lezione su:

Emotional valence and arousal affect written word recognition in an interactive way: Behavioural and neurophysiological evidence


In the last decade, research on the influence of affective variables on language processing has flourished, therefore challenging traditional models of word recognition that did not take such variables into account. We now know that emotionally-laden words (or verbal material more generally) are processed faster and more efficiently than neutral words, e.g., bomb or party vs. bag; they also elicit enhanced amplitude of event-related potential (ERP) components at early processing stages, indexing fast and automatic engagement, as well as at later stages, indexing sustained processing of evolutionary relevant material.
In my research, I specifically investigated possible interactive effects of the two main dimensions of affect, namely emotional valence (the extent to which a stimulus is positive or negative) and arousal (the extent of the physiological activation associated with it). According to an approach-withdrawal framework, positive valence as well as low arousal levels will elicit an approach reaction or mental set, while negative valence as well as high arousal levels will elicit withdrawal as they are both perceived as threatening. In the case of positive, highly arousing stimuli such as roller coaster, both approach and withdrawal tendencies will be elicited and hence, an implicit conflict will take place before a response decision can be made. In line with this framework, I found slower reaction times to words eliciting conflicting reactions, i.e., positive, high-arousal and negative, low-arousal words (roller coaster, lack), compared to words eliciting congruent reactions of approach (puppy) or withdrawal (bomb). I also found that this implicit conflict showed up at early processing stages, namely while we access our mental lexicon. In addition, conflict-evoking words elicited enhanced activation of a region of the brain called insula, where physiological reactions from the body and cognitive evaluation of an external stimulus are integrated in order to determine what we actually feel.
These results suggest that both dimensions of emotion need to be taken into account in the study of language processing, and more generally contribute to research on emotion.


Francesca Citron graduated in Psychology from the University of Milan-Bicocca. She was then awarded a 1-year scholarship from the “Comune di Milano” which allowed her to conduct a research project at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. She investigated the learning of non-adjacent syntactic dependencies by means of ERPs. After that, Prof. Citron enrolled in a 3-year PhD programme (2007-2010) at the University of Sussex, UK, where she investigated the neural correlates of emotion word processing. Prof. Citron moved back to Germany in 2011 for her post-doc: she spent 4 years at the Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion”, Free University of Berlin, working with Adele Goldberg on a collaborative project between the Cluster and Princeton University, NJ. During her stay in Berlin and her visits to Princeton, she developed her research on figurative language processing and its neural correlates. Since January 2014, Prof. Citron works as a lecturer at Lancaster University, UK, in the Department of Psychology (and aims to further her research on figurative language by looking at its comprehension in second language speakers. She is also exploring topics related to aesthetic perception)