Influence of affective significance on different levels of processing using pupil dilation in an analogical reasoning task
Prehn, K., Heekeren, H. R., van der Meer, E. – 2011
The present study investigates the interaction of cognition and emotion in decision making, using an analogical reasoning task. In this task, two word pairs were presented simultaneously. Each word pair could be characterized by an associative conceptual relation (object, actor, or location relation) as well as an emotional relation (negative, neutral, or positive valence). Both types of relations were equally task-relevant: Participants had to identify both types of relations, to compare them, and to decide whether or not the word pairs were analogous, i.e., corresponding in both conceptual and emotional relations. Behavioral data showed that emotional relations were identified preferentially and faster than conceptual relations. Pupil dilations reflected the descending difficulty of the conditions and were greatest in amplitude when both conceptual and emotional correspondence was shown, intermediate when only one type of relation (either the emotional or the conceptual) corresponded, and least when neither correspondence existed. Additionally, a negative valence of the word material slowed down response times and increased pupil dilation relative to positive and neutral items. In summary, pupil and response time data together support recent (neurobiological) models concerning the interaction of emotion and cognition by showing that affective significance leads to a processing advantage at a cognitively lower level of information processing (here, identification or retrieval of relations from long-term memory) but can also distract people from higher level cognitive processes (here, from the controlled comparison of retrieved relations).