When neutral turns significant: brain dynamics of rapidly formed associations between neutral stimuli and emotional contexts

Carlos Ventura-Bort, Andreas Löw, Julia Wendt, Florin Dolcos, Alfons O. Hamm, Mathias Weymar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The ability to associate neutral stimuli with motivationally relevant outcomes is an important survival strategy. In this study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate brain dynamics of associative emotional learning when participants were confronted with multiple heterogeneous information. Participants viewed 144 different objects in the context of 144 different emotional and neutral background scenes. During each trial, neutral objects were shown in isolation and then paired with the background scene. All pairings were presented twice to compare ERPs in response to neutral objects before and after single association. After single pairing, neutral objects previously encoded in the context of emotional scenes evoked a larger P100 over occipital electrodes compared to objects that were previously paired with neutral scenes. Likewise, larger late positive potentials (LPPs) were observed over parieto-occipital electrodes (450–750 ms) for objects previously associated with emotional relative to neutral contexts. The LPP – but not P100 – enhancement was also related to subjective object/context binding. Taken together, our ERP data provide evidence for fast emotional associative learning, as reflected by heightened perceptual and sustained elaborative processing for neutral information previously encountered in emotional contexts. These findings could assist in understanding binding mechanisms in stress and anxiety, as well as in addiction and eating-related disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2176-2183
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Volume44
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

Keywords

  • associative learning
  • binding
  • context
  • emotion
  • event-related potentials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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