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Emotion and Abstract Concepts

We study how abstract words (e.g., truth, faith) are represented, processed and learnt

weeping_womanWe have found that abstract words (statistically) tend to have more emotional associations than concrete words and that their processing in adults engages emotional circuits in the brain. Thus, we have argued that emotion provides grounding for the representation of abstract concepts.

In development, most psychological theories have assumed that acquisition of abstract words is particularly challenging because unlike concrete words (cup or banana) abstract concepts are not tangible or present in the learning environment. Instead, our ability to learn abstract concepts is thought to depend solely on linguistic context (e.g., we learn the meaning of freedom by hearing or reading about it). We have shown that up to the age of 8-9, typically developing children know and learn better abstract words with emotional associations than neutral abstract words (Ponari et al., 2017; Ponari et al., in prep).  Children with developmental language disorders (DLD), in comparison to their typically developing peers, are also not more impaired in learning abstract concepts, nor are children with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Ponari et al., in press).


Key Publications

Ponari, M., Norbury, C. & Vigliocco, G. (in press). Learning and Processing abstract words and concepts: Insights from typical and atypical development. Topics in Cognitive Science.

Ponari, M., Norbury, C.F. & Vigliocco, G. (2017). Acquisition of abstract concepts is influenced by emotion. Developmental Science. DOI: 10.1111/desc.12549.

Vinson, D.P., Ponari, M., Vigliocco, G. (2014). How does emotional content affect lexical processing? Cognition and Emotion, 28, 737-746.

Vigliocco, G.., dellaRosa, P., Vinson, D.P., Devlin, J., Kousta, S.-T. & Cappa, S.F. (2013). The neural representation of abstract words: The role of emotion. Cerebral Cortex. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht025

Vigliocco, G., Kousta, S.T., Vinson, D.P., Andrews, M. & Del Campo, E. (2013). The representation of Abstract Words: What matters? A reply to Paivio. Journal of Experimental Psychology:General, 142, 288-291.

Kousta, S..-T., Vigliocco, G., Vinson, D.P., Andrews, M. & Del Campo, E. (2011). The representation of abstract words: Why emotion matters. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 14-34.

Kousta, S.-T., Vinson, D.P. & Vigliocco, G. (2009). The role of emotional valence in the processing of words. Cognition, 112, 473-481.