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Being Happy and Seeing ”Happy’ ‘: Emotional State Mediates Visual Word Recognition


Lexical decision and word-naming experiments were conducted to examine influences of emotions in visual word recognition. Emotional states of happiness and sadness were induced with classical music. In the first two experiments, happy and sad participants (and neutral-emotion participants in Experiment 2) made lexical decisions about letter-strings, some of which were words with meanings strongly associated with the emotions happiness, love, sadness, and anger. Emotional state of the perceiver was associated with facilitation of response to words categorically related to that emotion (i.e. happy and sad words). However, such facilitation was not observed for words that were related by valence, but not category, to the induced emotions (i.e. love and anger words). Evidence for categorical influences of emotional state in word recognition was also observed in a third experiment that employed a word-naming task. Together the results support a categorical emotions model of the influences of emotion in information processing (Niedenthal, Setterlund, & Jones, 1994). Moreover, the result of the wordnaming experiment suggests that the effects of emotion are evident at very early stages in cognitive processing.

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