Successful Contextual Integration of Loose Mental Associations As Evidenced by Emotional Conflict-Processing
Often we cannot resist emotional distraction, because emotions capture our attention. For example, in TV-commercials, tempting emotional voices add an emotional expression to a formerly neutral product. Here, we used a Stroop-like conflict paradigm as a tool to investigate whether emotional capture results in contextual integration of loose mental associations. Specifically, we tested whether the associatively connected meaning of an ignored auditory emotion with a non-emotional neutral visual
... arget would yield a modulation of activation sensitive to emotional conflict in the brain. In an fMRI-study, nineteen participants detected the presence or absence of a little worm hidden in the picture of an apple, while ignoring a voice with an emotional sound of taste (delicious/disgusting). Our results indicate a modulation due to emotional conflict, pronounced most strongly when processing conflict in the context of disgust (conflict: disgust/no-worm vs. no conflict: disgust/worm). For conflict in the context of disgust, insula activity was increased, with activity correlating positively with reaction time in the conflict case. Conflict in the context of deliciousness resulted in increased amygdala activation, possibly due to the resulting "negative" emotion in incongruent versus congruent combinations. These results indicate that our associative stimulus-combinations showed a conflict-dependent modulation of activity in emotional brain areas. This shows that the emotional sounds were successfully contextually integrated with the loosely associated neutral pictures.