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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Processing of emotional words measured simultaneously with steady-state visually evoked potentials and near-infrared diffusing-wave spectroscopy

Leonie Koban13, Markus Ninck2, Jun Li2, Thomas Gisler2 and Johanna Kissler1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstrasse 10, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 Department of Physics, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstrasse 10, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Rue des Battoirs 7, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-85

Published: 27 July 2010



Emotional stimuli are preferentially processed compared to neutral ones. Measuring the magnetic resonance blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response or EEG event-related potentials, this has also been demonstrated for emotional versus neutral words. However, it is currently unclear whether emotion effects in word processing can also be detected with other measures such as EEG steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) or optical brain imaging techniques. In the present study, we simultaneously performed SSVEP measurements and near-infrared diffusing-wave spectroscopy (DWS), a new optical technique for the non-invasive measurement of brain function, to measure brain responses to neutral, pleasant, and unpleasant nouns flickering at a frequency of 7.5 Hz.


The power of the SSVEP signal was significantly modulated by the words' emotional content at occipital electrodes, showing reduced SSVEP power during stimulation with pleasant compared to neutral nouns. By contrast, the DWS signal measured over the visual cortex showed significant differences between stimulation with flickering words and baseline periods, but no modulation in response to the words' emotional significance.


This study is the first investigation of brain responses to emotional words using simultaneous measurements of SSVEPs and DWS. Emotional modulation of word processing was detected with EEG SSVEPs, but not by DWS. SSVEP power for emotional, specifically pleasant, compared to neutral words was reduced, which contrasts with previous results obtained when presenting emotional pictures. This appears to reflect processing differences between symbolic and pictorial emotional stimuli. While pictures prompt sustained perceptual processing, decoding the significance of emotional words requires more internal associative processing. Reasons for an absence of emotion effects in the DWS signal are discussed.