On ignoring words—exploring the neural signature of inhibition of affective words using ERPs
In the present study event-related potentials were used to shed further light on the neural signatures of active inhibition of the (affective) content of written words. Intentional inhibition was implemented by simply asking participants (N = 32) to ignore single words that served as primes in an affective priming (AP) task. In AP, evaluations about a priori neutral targets typically tend to shift towards the valence of preceding primes, denoting an AP effect (APE). To create a plausible cover-context emphasizing the usefulness of word inhibition, participants were asked to avoid this shift, that is, to make unbiased target evaluations. Ignoring the prime words was suggested as the most efficient strategy to achieve this aim. Effective inhibition of the words’ (affective) content, as suggested by a significant APE present for words processed without any further instruction, but not for ignored ones, affected multiple stages of processing. On the neuronal level, word inhibition was characterized by reduced early perceptual (left-lateralized word-specific N170), later attentional (parietal P300), and affective-semantic processing (reduced posterior semantic asymmetry). Furthermore, an additional recruitment of top-down inhibitory control processes, which was mirrored in increased amplitudes of medial-frontal negativity, showed to be critically involved in intentional word inhibition.