How negative emotions influence cognition : an EEG study in arithmetic


  • Melani Paola
  • Fabre Ludovic
  • Lemaire Patrick


  • Numerical cognition
  • Arithmetic
  • Cognitive strategies
  • Emotion
  • EEG

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The present study aimed at investigating the role of emotions on arithmetic performance. Previous findings showed that emotions can have both beneficial or detrimental effects on participants’ performance while they solve arithmetic problems (e.g., Fabre et al., 2022; Fabre & Lemaire, 2019; Kleinsorge, 2009; Lallement & Lemaire, 2021; Liu et al., 2021; Melani et al., 2023; Schimmack, 2005). For example, Melani et al. (2023) asked participants to verify arithmetic problems (e.g., 13x5=65. True? False). False problems respected or violated either the parity rule (i.e., a product must be even if either or both of its multipliers is even) or the five rule (i.e., N × 5 product that ends in 0 or 5). Each problem was preceded by an emotionally neutral or negative image. Melani et al. found that participants slowed down while verifying false five problems that violated both the five and parity rules or no rule, but that emotions had no influence while participants verified problems that violated only one (parity or five) rule. To further understand the underlying mechanisms for this role of emotions, the present study collected EEG in the same experiment carried out by Melani et al. (2023). Twenty-four participants were asked to verify complex multiplication problems (Figure 1) that were either true (e.g., 4 × 26 = 104) or false (e.g., 5 × 41 = 201). Half the problems were five problems (e.g., 5 × 28 = 140) and half were non-five problems (e.g., 6 × 36 = 216). False five problems violated the five-rule, the parity-rule, both rules, or no rule. Problems were preceded by emotionally neutral or negative pictures. Above and beyond replicating previous behavioural results, event-related potential (ERPs) documented the specific problem-verifcation processes on which emotions had an influence. For example, results showed important ERPs differences between negative and neutral emotion conditions during 550—850 ms post-stimulus presentation for both-rule violation problems. The data showed additional differences in ERPs for negative and neutral condition that also interacted with problem types both during the first 200-ms post-stimulus presentation, and after 1400 ms. These findings have important implications for furthering our understanding of the role of negative emotions on mechanisms that participants use to solve arithmetic problems.

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