Bad things come easier to the mind but harder to the body: Evidence from brain oscillations.

Author: Kuhbandner C1, Spachtholz P2, Pastötter B2
1Department of Psychology, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, 93053, Regensburg, Germany.
2Department of Psychology, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, 93053, Regensburg, Germany.
Conference/Journal: Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci.
Date published: 2016 Jul 6
Other: Word Count: 277

An intriguing finding of research on emotional processing is a discrepancy between perception and behavior. Perceptually, a robust finding is that negative stimuli are processed faster and more efficiently than positive stimuli. Behaviorally, a similarly robust finding is that response times are slower for negative than for positive stimuli. We proposed and tested a novel account to explain this still unexplained discrepancy, on the basis of the assumption that negative valence narrows perceptual processes to the benefit of speeded perception, but broadens motor processes at the cost of slowed responding. Participants performed a valence judgment task in which they responded with their left or right hand to negative and positive stimuli that were presented on the left or right, and we measured the activation of relevant/deactivation of irrelevant perceptual and motor processes, as revealed by the lateralization of electroencephalographic brain oscillations. Stimulus-related lateralization of alpha activity (8-12 Hz) over perceptual areas was increased for negative stimuli, indicating more efficient perceptual processing. By contrast, response-related lateralization of beta activity (20-25 Hz) over motor areas was decreased for negative stimuli, indicating less efficient response activation. Consistent with our predictions, more detailed analyses showed that both lateralization effects were caused by dynamics at the level of inhibiting irrelevant processes. For negative as compared to positive stimuli, the inhibition of irrelevant perceptual processes was increased, but the inhibition of irrelevant motor processes was decreased. These findings indicate that the discrepancy between perception and behavior in emotional processing may stem from asymmetrical effects of emotional valence on the breadth of cortical activations in perceptual and motor networks.

KEYWORDS: EEG; Emotion; Motor behavior; Perception; Response speed

PMID: 27383376 DOI: 10.3758/s13415-016-0429-0